AT FIRST sight the Dearing report appears to be another case of creeping Americanisation of higher education, with adoption of a fee-paying regime to follow the modular structure, consumerist ethos, and freedom of movement between courses favoured in universities in the United States.
Fees, however, could bring a consumer backlash. If the best technical colleges continue to offer vocational courses at a lower cost and with better employment prospects than the weakest university departments, then many students will try to save money by opting for a BTech or HND which will either lead to a job or to a place in the second or third year of an established university.
Students opting for the less academically demanding courses in the new universities may find a new study ethos, driven by the thought of getting value for the fees paid. Dearing may, we hope, banish the notion of higher education as a branch of the leisure industry which appears all too widespread - if it is not too late.
The decision to waive or reduce fees for deferred-entry students could be made a permanent feature of higher education post-Dearing. School-leavers would be encouraged to take a minimum of two years after leaving school in one of the following occupations: community service; voluntary service overseas; English language teaching overseas; or a vocational/technical HND course (subject to qualifications). Most lecturers would welcome the prospect of teaching 20-year-old students with some maturity; in return, the students would receive a scholarship, or reduction in fees.