Academy must make the case for higher fees

Sector should put ‘its neck on the line’ and take the question on, former government adviser argues. Melanie Newman reports

January 30, 2010

Universities should not leave it to others to convince the public of the case for higher tuition fees, the sector has been warned.

Lisa Tremble, director of Policy Review Intelligence, a strategic campaigns consultancy, and an adviser to former Education Secretary Charles Clarke during his term in office, said universities should not shrink from the topic as they did during debates about the introduction of fees in the early 2000s.

“It’s very difficult to have a debate about higher education funding without tackling the question of the level of tuition fees,” she said.

“Even though the principle of graduate contribution through fees has been established, the level at which fees are set is still a hugely controversial issue. Universities have to think about whether they are prepared to take the matter on.”

Ms Tremble, speaking at a 1994 Group seminar on 28 January, said that when she was advising Mr Clarke, it was left to the Government to make the case that universities needed more money and “take the flak over fees”.

“Universities were reluctant to speak out,” she said. “This was incredibly frustrating as it felt as though the higher education sector did not want to put its neck on the line.”

This time, universities should not expect others to argue for them, she added.

Although many of the submissions to Lord Browne’s review of fees have been made public, the Russell Group of large research-intensive universities said this week that it had not yet decided whether to publish its submission in full.

A spokesman for the mission group said: “We will publish the Russell Group case as made to the Browne inquiry, but we are still discussing whether to publish the actual submission document.

“Either way, the Russell Group will be arguing the case for increased investment.”

Meanwhile, a consortium led by Universities UK is to launch a nationwide publicity campaign in a bid to convince the public of the value of higher education.

The campaign, which will also be supported by the Universities Marketing Forum and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, will be based around a national “University Week” in June, supported by local events in institutions such as open days.

However, Nicola Dandridge, UUK’s chief executive, said the consortium would not be financing a large-scale advertising campaign.

She said: “There will be two main messages: first, that there is significant benefit to individuals from higher education – it really does affect your life experience and your health. The second message is about the broader social benefits: we are training the doctors you rely on, we have the solutions to climate change. Take universities away and you would have an impoverished society.”

Ms Dandridge added that the perception that universities were “ivory towers” filled her with despair.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com

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