Thursday, 2 December 2010

The big myth

One of the big myths doing the rounds about Higher Education is that if expansion hadn't happened (and this is usually tied to 'Blair's 50% target), there wouldn't need to be more fees.

This is just wrong - it's a myth that needs to be nailed if we're to get any really good debate going about the future of our universities.

Fact one: state spending has nothing like kept up with the increase in numbers, and it fell by nearly two thirds between the 1980s and early 2000s (see graph in link). The English component of the teaching grant is something like £5bn; it's this that will be cut to under £2bn, and has to be made up through fees. We're talking about a £3bn choice - not an 'insupportable' charge on the taxpayer.

Fact two: the Funding Councils and the Government have NOT been pushing up numbers. They've been restricting them, under Labour too, and fining universities who don't co-operate. Something like a third of applicants, often with very good A-Levels, now don't get into university at all - and they're now unlikely to in the rush to beat fees.

Fact three: we're living through a social revolution, throughout the developed world, that will push the boundaries of how many people go to university. The UK is in fact below the OECD average in terms of the numbers of graduates, not a forerunner. Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore: these countries have far more than half their youth in HE. Britain doesn't.

The big myth is that governments have forced up numbers, and that's unaffordable. Actually, Britain's classy higher education system has been squeezed into a numbers straitjacket for years, and is highly affordable. It's cheaper than Trident, by the way.

Do tell your friends and relatives when they come up with this stuff again.


  1. The other part of the argument is that not only have numbers been artifically pushed up to unaffordable levels, but that this drive has seen people going to university who 'shouldn't' be going at all - people who would be better off going straight into business or trade (as it used to be called), but who have been driven by governmenet targets to do silly unaffordable courses that don't 'really' count as HE anyway. That bit needs to be nailed too.

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