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Vice-Chancellors urged to ‘hold on to Nurse Browne’

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Vice-Chancellors urged to ‘hold on to Nurse Browne’

Head of Universities UK, Professor Steve Smith, has called for unity among Vice-Chancellors in supporting the rise in student tuition fees to £6000 with the possibility of premium fees at £9000 (‘Political Impasse of Fees will harm students’). His statement is fatalistic, suggesting that the only alternative is that student numbers will be cut drastically. He passes over the fact that the settlement he is recommending will lead to a signifcant cut in funding for all Universities except those that charge the premium fee.

He calls upon the Government at some future time to reconsider the public funding of universities, now the lowest among comparator OECD countries. He must be aware that the more likely outcome is for those Universities that seek to charge premium fees will press for the cap at £9000 to be removed, so that home students can be charged fees in line with those of international students. These Universities estimate the average current cost of teaching an undergraduate programme to be £8000. They wish to charge more in order to have students subsidise their research activities in the absence of proper public funding. What will the students get in return? The ‘offer’ – to use the jargon of the newspeak of market-oriented

University CEOs – is ‘brand’ and a degree as a ‘positional good’. Yet, we are supposed to be reassured that the new system is fairer than the old, despite the fact that students face escalating fees and that the evidence of the impact of differential fees from the US is that they reproduce and reinforce existing inequalities.

These changes arise as a consequence of an unprecedented cut in the publicly funded teaching budget of 78%. This is completely out of line with the cuts endured by any other sector in receipt of public funds. Moreover, it involves the privatisation of undergraduate education in the arts, humanities and social sciences. There is no electoral mandate for these proposals and they have not been subject to debate. It is ironic that a Government that has declared itself to be in favour of openness and against quangos, should now seek to rush through proposals that have themselves been hatched in secret discussions (via  secondment of BIS officials to HEFCE, former Head of HEFCE appointed to the Browne Review, BIS officials Chairing Reviews, etc).

Universities are a public good precisely because they facilitate debate and knowledgeable decision-making. It is salutary that the demise of the public university in England seems destined to take place without proper debate and that our Vice-Chancellors seem willing to let that happen.

The Campaign for the Public University calls for that debate to begin. There is no risk of an ‘impasse’ on fees, only an attempt to embargo proper discussion.

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