Monday, 6 December 2010

More bad news for the Coalition's fees policy

Making public policy is hard. Decisions are pregnant with unintended consequences, full of beartraps you never thought of, made in the 'fog of war' - statistical, temporal and moral uncertainty Ministers don't have time to resolve or even to think about. That's why there's a burgeoning literature about the health of senior Ministers. The paperwork across a desk has grown so quickly since Mr Attlee's day that even a workaholic that Gordon Brown cannot keep up. Even in Harold Wilson's day - and the man was a formidable intellect - if nothing else - things were becoming impossible. He retired in 1976 a deeply, deeply weary man.

This might explain why some public policies are just so badly designed.

Higher Education is a good example of this. Accept for a moment that Ministers in both Coalition parties want (a) more students to go to University, (b) Universities to remain solvent, (c) a measure of equity in how we pay for all this. That might be a bit of an ask, but stay with me.

How do we explain, then, how bits of their policies keep fraying and then tearing? Today comes the news that Minister's 'free year at uni' scheme for students who received free school meals at school won't pay for 18,000 as claimed. It'll be more like 7,000 - a very small number of undergraduates indeed.

This is yet another cost to the taxpayer of the whole new system as well, mind - see previous posts passim. It just keeps getting costlier and costlier to provide a worse service. Quite a feat when you think about it.

And as the thinktank Million+ has pointed out, these will almost certainly be concentrated in non-Russell Group universities (crocodile tears and undeliverable promises about 'access' to the Russell Group of 'elite' universities in the new system notwithstanding. So if they charge more than GBP6,000, they'll have to stump up the cash for one of the two years. Even more cost and even more drain universities' precious cash!

It'll still go through - but via compromises between the two parties, with the heterogeneous university sector(s), new private providers, Further Education Colleges, students, graduates and the wider concerned public, it's turned into a dog's dinner. Sad.