Posts Tagged ‘education funding’

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Tuition fee rises: let’s clear the air for a clear debate

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2010 by Tessa Stone Tagged: , , , ,

As students protest against tuition fees on the streets of England’s cities, the Welsh Assembly Government announced plans to keep tuition fees at current levels for Welsh students, wherever they choose to study, and make up any difference. The press is full of it this morning of course, with top marks for high drama going, as so often, to the Daily Mail for ‘Punished for being English’. Welsh Education Minister Leighton Andrews’ use of language was interesting though, and symptomatic of the problem with this whole non-debate.

Unlike their English counterparts, he told Assembly members, Welsh students ‘will not have to find either £6,000 or £9,000 to study. This is nonsense, and one of the starkest examples yet of the sort of flabby rhetoric that is going to ensure that any fee rise will have the very effect everyone claims to be most concerned to avoid – putting off the poorest students.

No-one will ‘have to find’ any money up front for fees. Not poorer students, not those in the ‘squeezed middle’, not their parents, no-one… They will, of course, have to pay more back after university, although for the most disadvantaged this will at least be on better terms than is currently the case. But whichever way you look at it – and whether you oppose tuition fees in any shape or form or see them as inevitable – it’s absolutely critical that we make sure we’re at least arguing about the right thing, and that’s debt, not up-front affordability.

That’s not to say that debt aversion won’t see some students rule themselves out of HE, and it’s that we must work hard to counter. Spurious scaremongering about ‘having to find £9,000’, especially from politicians who should know better, risks doing more harm than the proposals currently on the table….

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Universities come out fighting

In Uncategorized on January 13, 2010 by Tessa Stone Tagged: ,

man_collapsing_under_coin

As predicted, the university sector didn’t waste much time in mounting their counter-attack against the Government cuts announced just days before Christmas. The Chair of the Russell Group, Professor Michael Arthur, and its Director General, Dr Wendy Piatt, published a joint article in yesterday’s Guardian, which was both fascinating and extremely heartening to those of us who’ve been egging the Russell Group on for years to become something greater than the sum of its considerable parts.

Firstly, the fact that it is a joint statement signals intent, and suggests consensus behind the new hard line. The need to get 20 of the most powerful Vice-Chancellors in the country to agree on anything usually results in statements which, while accurate, are often disappointingly anodyne.

Not this time – this is fire and brimstone stuff, at least by their standards!

These ‘devastating’ cuts will see one of the world’s greatest education systems ‘brought to its knees’ in just 6 months, they suggest. They are trying to force the Government into public dialogue, ‘call[ing] on [them] to state clearly that Higher Education will not be cut further, and to seriously consider reversing the cuts already proposed.’

And if the Russell group doesn’t get the right answer? The Government ‘has been warned’… the sector will face ‘meltdown’.

The Government’s response to this shows a dismal misunderstanding of the way in which universities work. Higher Education Minister David Lammy said ‘we are minimising the effect on the frontline by making savings on capital budgets, asking the sector for further efficiency savings, and by … reduc[ing] funding which will not impact on teaching’.

Mr Lammy ought to heed his own rather unfortunate military analogy – this is like saying we will cut the number of barracks/tents/tanks, reduce the rations and take out the administrative systems which make sure everything gets to where it’s needed, but the men and women on the frontline will still have guns so our ability to wage war/keep the peace won’t be affected.

All university work is pretty much ‘frontline’. Cut research and you cuteacher_writing_on_boardt teaching’s lifeblood. Lose the admin and academics will drown in a sea of uncompleted paperwork. Cut buildings and equipment and at the best you’ll have an environment that is unconducive to learning, at worst you’ll compromise the quality of research and development, thereby affecting teaching quality.

There is very little in university life that doesn’t impact on teaching, one way or another. While no-one would deny that efficiency savings are possible and probably sensible (although Government can hardly cast the first stone there…) it’s wildly disingenuous to suggest that cuts like these can be implemented in such a way that teaching quality, and quantity, will remain untouched. The Government has, indeed, been warned. The sector awaits with bated breath.

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Higher Education funding cuts won’t go unnoticed by the sector

In Uncategorized on December 23, 2009 by Tessa Stone Tagged: ,

Announcing cuts to HE funding while everyone’s on holiday? Maybe Christmas isn’t such a good time to try and bury this particular bad news.

Am I being too cynical this close to Christmas, or did the Government think that if it announced its £533m university funding cuts two days before Christmas when the entire HE sector is very firmly on its hols, it might just sneak the bad news out without anyone noticing? Nice try, but no cigar.

The penalty of £3,700 incurred by universities for every student over-recruited strikes particular fear into this ex-admissions tutor’s heart.

The numbers game in University recruitment is a dark art at the best of times, and in a recession I’m sure that second guessing what proportion of students offered places will both accept the place and get their grades becomes even more impossible than ever it was.

That the Government ‘wants to see more degrees completed over two years’ via fast-track courses is the sort of news that will affect more than just admissions tutors’ mental health, however. This will presage a fundamental alteration of our education system that no-one in the sector will let pass unnoticed.

I think that the government may have misjudged its burying of this particular bad news though. At pretty much the only time of year when our HE colleagues take a real break from just keeping their heads above the academic water, they now have this proposition on which to focus their undivided thoughts and attention (when not watching Sound of Music for the 80th time, of course). We shall await their considered response in the New Year with bated breath…

The only disadvantage I’ve found of having joined the merry army of bloggers is that I now have another New Year’s resolution to add to my burgeoning list – to try and write more frequently. After all, the signs are it’s going to be a particularly eventful year for higher education in particular! In the meantime though, I wish everyone a very merry Christmas, and a peaceful 2010.

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Should students help to pay for their successors?

In Uncategorized on October 15, 2009 by Tessa Stone Tagged: ,

one american dollarCan we really expect UK graduates to contribute money so that others can access University? It will take a big change in attitude.

I was interested to read last week that Oxford University’s new Vice Chancellor is suggesting that the UK’s ‘Ivy League’ should go American, and introduce means-tested bursaries.

He makes this suggestion from the comfortable position of having inherited enough wealthy, influential and loyal alumni from whom to raise the necessary money.

UK universities have been making increasingly Herculean, and professional, fundraising efforts over recent years, and are gradually overcoming our cultural aversion to asking for money.

However, it’s going to take more than just the expansion of our euphemistically known ‘development’ sector to provide the sort of support that disadvantaged young people are going to need, particularly if recent forecasts about the future level of tuition fees are realistic, as one suspects they are.

If the UK is going to enjoy a fully-funded HE sector in the future, we will need to move even further away from the welfare state mentality that education should be free at the point of use.  Until then, the present hard-fought truce, where those who benefit from HE pay for themselves through a heavily discounted loan that only needs repaying once they can afford it, can only be a holding position.

Many US undergraduates believe not only that they should pay for their own university education, but most importantly that they should help pay for those less fortunate than themselves.  The sharpest operators start this process before they’ve even graduated, with final year students directing their ‘RAG-week’ equivalent to provide bursaries for the incoming first years, so setting the tone – and the focus of students’ natural altruism – right from the outset.

The problem for UK universities wanting to raise money for student support today is that it will take years, if not generations to affect this sort of change in attitude here.

As a nation, we’re very good at digging deep to support animals in distress, and increasingly good at supporting people in distress.
But getting graduates to support those who can’t pay for the life and social mobility-changing experience university can provide is going to take some doing.

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