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5 Reasons to give two cheers to Ed Miliband

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5 Reasons to give two cheers to Ed Miliband

Many will be disappointed that Ed Miliband’s proposal to cap the student contribution to fees at £6000 does not go far enough in challenging the Coalition Government’s new fee regime. Others have criticised them on the grounds that they are regressive given the returns of higher education to some graduates, although it is striking that those who make this argument are not otherwise committed to progressive taxation and addressing the wider inequalities in which higher education is implicated. There is a strong case for doing something about inequality and it is continuous with maintaining high quality public services, including public higher education. For this reason, it is appropriate to offer two cheers for the following reasons:

  1. The proposals re-establish the principle that similar courses at different institutions should be similarly funded. This is positive in terms of equity and social justice, given that selective institutions are currently socially selective.
  2. The proposals recognise the public value of higher education and reintroduce the HEFCE block teaching grant for all subjects.
  3. The re-introduction of the block grant represents a significant obstacle to the entry of for-profit providers and the dismantling of the idea of the university as somewhere where teaching and research are integral activities.
  4. The proposals address the longer-run unsustainability of the present system and begin to block the pressure from some Vice Chancellors for the lifting of the fee cap and making changes to the income threshold and other payment terms of the current student loans arrangements.
  5. The proposals are costed and begin, at last, a proper political debate about the values and value of public higher education.

We suggest that this debate should address the nine propositions about the value of public higher education put forward by the campaign for the Public University and other campaigning groups in response to the Coalition Government’s reduction of its purposes to the promotion of economic growth and investment in human capital.

Higher education serves public benefits as well as private ones. These require financial support if these benefits are to continue to be provided.

Public universities are vital to build and maintain confidence in the public debate necessary to a properly functioning democracy. 

Public universities have a social mission, contributing to the amelioration of social inequality, which is the corollary of the promotion of social mobility.

Public higher education is part of a generational contract in which an older generation invests in the wellbeing of future generations that will support them in turn.

Public institutions providing similar programmes of study should be funded at a similar level.

Education cannot be treated as a simple consumer good; consumer sovereignty is an inappropriate means of placing students at the heart of the system.

Training in skills is not the same as a university education. While the first is valuable in its own terms, a university education provides more than technical training. This should be clearly recognised in the title of a university.

The university is a community made up of diverse disciplines as well as different activities of teaching, research and external collaboration. These activities are maintained by academics, managers, administrators and a range of support staff, all of whom contribute to what is distinctive about the university as a community.

Universities are not only global institutions. They also serve their local and regional communities and their different traditions and contexts are important.

Read a wider discussion of these propositions, In Defence of Public Higher Education, here.

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