It seems that every announcement on higher education funding from Westminster leads to higher costs, increased debt and another kick in the teeth for students.
Earlier this week we learned that current university students in England could see their fees rise during the course of their degree. The agreement they signed up for can now be torn up and they can be held to ransom for simply wanting to continue their studies.
Making this announcement just before A-level results day shows a callous disregard for the thousands of students currently looking forward to university life. They have been mis-sold university places on the basis of costs that will not necessarily apply. The amount that a university student pays can now rise year-on-year, in unpredictable ways.
Higher education institutions face funding challenges themselves, and so can always be expected to charge as much as they can get away with. But the mistakes of 2010 are being made all over again.
Back then, it was expected that most universities would not charge the full amount of the tuition fee cap, and that the laws of supply and demand would keep fees down. But £9,000 fees instantly became the norm.
Education is a public good that is now being treated like a private indulgence. The incessant focus on raising fees each year risks dissuading the teachers, doctors and engineers of the future from continuing their education at some point in the future.
Pushing for whatever the market will take is short-sighted and dangerous. It also means producing generations of graduates who will be saddled with a lifetime of debt and a loan book so huge that the Treasury won’t be able to demonstrate any savings in public spending on higher education and will then look to sell it off to private companies.
And the teaching excellence framework will only exacerbate this problem – as so many across the sector, including the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, have noted. Measuring quality is vexed with complexity, and getting it wrong is deeply unhelpful. And that’s why the linkage with a fee rise is absolutely mistaken – leading to a range of inconsistencies, and risking a wide range of problematic, unintended consequences.
So make no mistake; students are angry. Our future is being gambled on an ideological hunch that increasing fees will improve quality.
And we are not the only ones who recognise the damage that these changes will have on the university sector. Academics, teachers and lecturers agree that shifting the burden of expense even further on to individual students will do nothing to drive standards.
That’s why the University and College Union is joining us in taking to the streets on 19 November.
The United for Education demonstration, taking place in London, will send a clear message to Theresa May’s government that punishing students even further will not improve universities or our graduate prospects. Only substantial public investment will.
Sorana Vieru, is vice-president (higher education) at the National Union of Students.
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