Choice cut (2 of 2)

November 25, 2010

Eastwood's defence of the Browne Review relies on wishful thinking. He predicts that "students will enter as discriminating and informed applicants and will study as expectant and committed learners". But if students view higher education as a service to be purchased - and at an increased price - they are more likely to believe that it is the university's duty to "deliver" that success rather than focus on their own responsibility for learning.

Eastwood adds that "teachers will be reanimated because fee-dependent institutions will never again undervalue the great calling and art of university teaching". This ignores the fact that, in most universities, promotion depends on bringing in research income. This will not change in the new funding environment - indeed, the need to attract external funding will increase.

When student demand to enter a university is based on its place in the reputational and social hierarchy, the motivation to improve teaching is significantly reduced. In research-intensive universities, the job of keeping students happy tends be delegated to lower-paid teaching specialists and postgraduate students. The biggest motivation to improve teaching occurs in low-status institutions that need to attract students, but these universities and colleges are also where the cuts will bite hardest, resources will be most scarce and morale most damaged.

The increased reliance on a market in student admissions will widen the gap between rich and poor universities and will ensure that a greater proportion of institutional budgets goes on advertising and customer satisfaction, none of which improves the quality of the education students receive.

David Gosling, Visiting professor, University of Plymouth.

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