Axeing cap will hit diversity

February 26, 2009

It is a great pity that some of the input offered to John Denham, Universities Secretary, as part of his review of higher education is not as well informed as it should be. For example, Sir John Chisholm recommends that the fee cap be lifted to create a "more diverse and competitive" sector ("Lift fees cap to help sector, Denham told", 19 February).

Regrettably, experience in the US suggests that because the leading universities are competing for status, greater price competition simply increases prices and costs without gains in quality, efficiency or value for money.

At the same time, the unavoidable absence of any single agreed definition of educational quality in a mass system means that market forces largely mimic, and indeed reinforce, those tendencies towards homogeneity that are already strongly present in the academy, based, in essence, on research performance.

Raising the fee cap would have precisely the opposite effect to the one that Sir John intends. What a shame that no one appears to have told him.

Roger Brown, Professor of higher education policy, Liverpool Hope University.

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