Wednesday, 25 September 2013

We need a futile gesture at this stage

...I’d learnt from the OU’s high-energy Vice-Chancellor, Martin Bean, how when he took on the job in 2009 his first task was to save even the possibility of part-time students having access to loans, without which the OU would have been crushed. He was bemused by the whole introduction of fees, which, bizarrely, may end up costing the government more than the previous system. He is now fighting an absurd restriction that forbids loans to students who want to take a degree equivalent to one they already have. So if someone with a BA in Economics wants to retrain for computer sciences they can’t get a loan. In an age where everyone calls for the need to change not to speak of a "flexible workforce"... England under the Coalition
I've put the really shocking bit in bold. Let that bit sink in. 'the ... introduction of fees ... may end up costing the government more than the previous system.'

We know how fees have already affected individual students. Back in 2011, this is how it the burden on our students was reported, not in the Guardian or the New Statesman, but in the Torygraph, for heaven's sake:
Figures show that undergraduates in just two other countries – the United States and Korea – currently pay more for a degree than in the UK. Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that students were charged the equivalent of almost £3,100 a year for a university course in 2008/9.
It put the UK above Japan and Australia and significantly higher than European competitors such as France, the Netherlands and Sweden, where tuition is free.
Separate figures show that UK students currently contribute two-thirds of the cost of a degree course – more than double the OECD average and around twice the proportion a decade ago.
The findings come before the cap on tuition fees almost trebles to £9,000 for students starting courses in 2012, which could lead to the UK topping the table in coming years.
The universities are also taking a hit:
Universities will face significant financial pressures during the next few years following changes to funding and higher tuition fees, according to a new report by Universities UK (UUK).
The research revealed that despite institutions planning for changes, the government's overhaul has had a major impact on the HE sector, which could affect the UK's skilled workforce and economic growth in the future.
The study found that in 2012, England's universities recruited around 28,000 fewer students than expected.
The study also found a drop in postgraduate students and significant falls in 2012/13 in the numbers of new entrants to UK universities from abroad.
In short, it's rubbish being a student in this country, under the new regime, and it's not that great being a university. The only possible excuse for inflicting this degree of pain is that we're saving shedloads of money that the country/taxpayers can't afford to spend. Right, Nick?
State spending on higher education will be still be huge at £2bn. Given the fiscal pressure, we have to rebalance the contribution or cut student numbers—and that’s not something I want.
Unfortunately, Nick and chums haven't yet convinced everybody that saddling students with an eye-watering debt burden and throwing the higher education sector into chaos has actually achieved anything at all. The Higher Education Policy Institute, for example doesn't buy it:
This report analyses the evidence of the cost of the Government’s reforms to the funding of higher education effective from this year.
It concludes that the cost will be much higher than has been admitted, both because repayments of loans is likely to be much lower than claimed and also because the inflationary impact of the fees will mean that the level of benefits will be increased.
The report concludes that not only will the new arrangements prove much more expensive than previously thought, but even that they may be more expensive than the arrangements they replaced.
I guess that all we can do at this stage is to hope that throwing the universities into crisis and selling future generations of graduates into a lifetime of debt servitude is a thought-through policy that won't actually cost the nation more money than we were spending previously, rather than an ancient recycled sketch from Beyond the Fringe:
(Squadron Leader Cameron to Flight Officer Clegg) 
Cameron:  I want you to lay down your credibility, Clegg. 
Clegg:         Right sir! 
Cameron:  We need a futile gesture at this stage. It will raise the whole tone of the war against the deficit.