Friday, 1 April 2011

English University Funding: A simple, workable all-round win-win solution

Undergraduates who have had the benefit of a private or independent secondary education should pay FULL market-rate fees (i.e. cost plus margin) plus a contribution to a bursary fund.

Cambridge £60,000 per annum. That'll do nicely, thank you, sir.

Oxford £72,000 per annum. Thanks, m'lord.

Undergraduates who go to University via a state education, i.e. five consecutive years attendance at a publicly funded secondary school, should pay NOTHING (and receive a stipend).
Problem solved.

Why should the State subsidise the academic aspirations of the wealthy?
If members of Oxford's dining club, the Bullingdon, can afford to spray fellow students with £400 bottles of French champagne then I'm sure they (or their parents) can find the wherewithal to properly pay their way.

The real-life consequences of this policy could prompt a rush of middle-class parents to enrol their kids into middling along secondary schools, thus dragging up standards in classrooms, and also prompt prospective undergrads from wealthy backgrounds to look to ensconce themselves in U.S. Ivy League universities or at comparable, distinguished European universities. This, of course, would in turn prompt the press to howl about a brain-drain.

In fact, there is already something of a brain-drain in process. Last year more than 22,000 UK nationals signed up to universities in Europe. The UK press seems remarkably quiet about the phenomenon. Why? Well, it's mainly students from working-class backgrounds taking the initiative. Courses are cheaper, accommodation is cheaper, public transport cheaper, health and welfare services more efficient, and the quality of life generally much better. And, they get to graduate without a debt the size of a mortgage hanging over them.

An unanticipated consequence of the new fees regime has been to stimulate a rise in the number of european universities offering a range of undergraduate and post-graduate courses delivered wholly in English and targetting English learners. I know, I teach on such a course. The students I teach each pay €5,400 (£4,750 give or take a few quid) for an MA.

You may think this solution a product of old style class-warrior thinking -- but think it through -- it's a win-win solution.
Over the medium to long-term such a policy would probably kickstart a few private universities into being - allowing middle-class undergrads to maintain their distance from the oiks. Teachers will have a choice of employer and terms and conditions (and avoid the ridiculous national requirements for teachers to have qualifications in unrelated disciplines). Recruiters will be able to target more clearly.

Some will call this educational apartheid, others will welcome this as a sign of maturity of the market in higher education. Even Portugal, the so-called economic basket-case of Europe, has more than 10 private universities and Spain, 20. The UK, France, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands could be said to be over-dependant on an exclusively public higher education system. While in Poland (the 6th largest higher education system in the European Union, with 1.9 million students) the rise of the private university sector has been dramatic - there are now more than 330 private institutions in the higher education sector.

And, in the UK? The singular instance of the University of Buckingham does not comprise a sector.

So, what do you think? Am I barking mad, or misinformed? Is my logic faulty? Is my analysis, and prognosis, misguided?

In the interests of disclosure - Between 1980 and 1983 the local authority paid my tuition fees and paid me a full maintenance grant for my first degree. In 1984 I paid  £3,000 for an MA from a publicly funded university - approximately £8,000 in today's money, and received no assistance whatsoever from the State. My daughter is currently studying PPE at Oxford, and my son is studying Anthropology and Philosophy at Manchester. I am occasionally employed by a private university and a public-private teaching foundation.

BTW the image is of Glasgow University - by pixelsandpaper

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