“I guess it’s fair to say that I’m a bit of nerd for higher education policy and that I have a more than normal level of interest in politics,” Derfel Owen, director of academic services at University College London, writes on Derfel’s Blog.
He is not kidding. The blog goes on, in three separate posts, to ask what each of the three parties with the most MPs in the last Parliament – the Conservatives, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats – would do for the university sector. Mr Owen scores each party based on four policy areas: tuition fees, research funding, immigration and membership of the European Union. Marks are out of 10 for tuition fees and immigration, and out of five for the others.
The Lib Dems are first up, and given the infamy of the party’s U-turn on its pledge not to increase tuition fees, you might expect it to perform poorly on this category. “The Liberal Democrats have gone for that old trick of not [having] a policy as such,” surmises Mr Owen, meaning they “lose points for not having the courage to stick up for the fees regime they put in place”. Thanks to a strong performance on the other three areas, however, the party scores an impressive 23 out of 30.
The Labour Party, despite having a clear and costed tuition fees policy of reducing annual fees to £6,000, also fares poorly in this category. It is, Mr Owen declares, “a cynical policy that rewards the wrong people”. Although leader Ed Miliband’s pro-Europe stance earns maximum points on the immigration measure, it is not enough to save the party from slumping to a disappointing 16 out of 30.
The Conservative Party is next up, and its policy of having an in/out referendum on Europe does not play so well for higher education, Mr Owen believes. “A prolonged renegotiation and a divisive referendum would limit the UK’s access to EU research funding,” he writes.
The continuation of the Tories’ £9,000 fees policy is a positive, the blog says, and the party earns full marks in this category. Immigration, however, is a different matter.
“There was some vague hope that the Conservatives might see the light and be persuaded by the Lib Dems to remove international students from the net immigration figures,” Mr Owen writes. “No such luck!” Final score – 17 out of 30.
A separate blog by Gill Wyness, lecturer in the economics of education at the UCL Institute of Education and a research economist at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance, took a slightly different view of the £9,000 tuition fees policy.
“The idea was to transfer the burden of the cost of higher education from the taxpayer to graduates and to make the system more competitive: it was expected that only the top universities would charge the full £9,000 per year, while the others could compete on price as well as quality,” Dr Wyness writes on the LSE’s British Politics and Policy blog.
“The reforms…failed to deliver a more market based sector: there is almost no variation in tuition fees, with the average fee standing at £8,735 per year,” she concludes.
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