Thursday, 3 May 2012
English Higher Education: Head in Hands, Heads in Sand
Well, I haven't written about English Higher Education for a while, have I? Let's have another go round the block marked 'Ministers don't know what they're doing' then, shall we?
Every day that goes by shows ever more clearly that the present system cannot work, and will not work. You heard it here first, folks. Expensive, bureaucratic, giving the Government more and more powers to interefere and muck about with their so-called 'market', it's now just a total mess. It'll have to be completely revisited in the next Parliament, though much damage will probably have been done by then.
What are the latest signs of this disarray? Well, the Government has now expanded the pool of high-tariff places that will not be subject to the numbers cap in 2013/14. Anyone with at least ABB in their A-Levels can now pretty much go wherever they want. Put aside the fact this encourages all the expansion in institutions that perceive themselves to be 'research-intensive' rather than 'teaching-intensive'. Ignore the fact that there are only so many students in any case, and they're all pretty much in the part of the sector they wanted to go to anyway. No. The major consequence of this is that the Government is slashing back the 'core and margin' policy they only embarked upon a year ago - whereby low-cost providers (mostly FE colleges) can have more and more of the places. So a 'strategy' we were told would constrain costs just a few months ago is now in the bin. Way to go, guys - as our American friends would say.
This at a time when the Government's claim to be enhancing social mobility has basically been laughed out of court, as universities try to cut bursaries and increase fee waivers to reduce the immediate 'up front' cost of each course - in response to a policy that's now been shredded. And when it looks ever more likely that the sector (and indeed, all public services) will be on the end of another round of very large public spending cuts in 2014-17.
Oh, and by the way, just as a little coda... The ultimate insanity of the UK's new tuition fees 'policies' (if they can be dignified with this word) is that if you live in Northern Ireland, or you have a Northern Ireland or Irish grandparent, you can get an Irish passport and then get a free Higher Education in Scotland. Another great big loophole just opened up in a set of arrangements that look more and more like a tissue-thin set of compromises that might not even last out this administration, let alone the next.
If there was a little symbol I could draw for putting my head in my hands, I'd draw it.
The following will have to suffice for now: :-(