Thursday, 30 June 2011

Just answer the question (But don't expect me to tell you what it is!)

The Government has expressed surprise that many universities have opted to charge the maximum (£9K p.a.) fees to students to cover their costs and to maintain their reputations as serious institutions. (There's a hint as to the reason at the end of the last sentence.) This was clearly not the answer the Government wanted from the universites, so the new initiatives announced by David Willetts on Tuesday (28th June) seem designed to give Vice-Chancellors a clue about the 'correct' response to the charging issue. There will be no Government imposed cap on the recruitment of high quality students (AAB) to any institution, and 20000 supported places for students at universties charging fees at the lower end. Is that clearer? To benefit, institutions need either to be able to recruit very good students (e.g. Russell Group universities) or have taken the risk of charging lower fees.

Does that make more sense about what a 'correct' response might be?

On Newsnight, Willetts insisted that there was no hidden agenda; the Government simply wants to allow market forces to work their magic to restructure the higher education sector. This might be more believeable if the Government did not keep changing the rules under which these forces are operating. One could be forgiven for thinking they were pushing towards an unstated outcome!

There are lots of good arguments to be had about the role of learning versus training, and the effect of large departments and small departments (plenty of choice of courses, but fewer opportunities to get to know teachers and vice versa) but this is not being encouraged. It would be much more honest if the Government simply said what it wanted to achieve and get on with implementing its vision. At least then we could have a rational argument rather than the current system of university reactions to artificially imposed  sequences of financial constraints.

Or maybe it is all about money.

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