'Labour would have spared sector Maoist and chaotic reforms'

The government’s higher education reforms have created “unnecessary risk” for universities, the shadow business secretary has said in his first major speech on the sector.

December 2, 2011

Speaking today at an event organized by Universities UK, Chuka Umunna said that, had the Labour Party been in power after last year’s general election, tuition fees would have been capped at £6,000 in order to prevent the “black hole” that had emerged in the financing of the student loan scheme.

Criticising the news today that 24 higher education institutions have re-negotiated their access agreements to reduce their average fees – mainly by shifting financial support from bursaries to fee waivers – in order to bid for additional places, Mr Umunna said it proved that widening access was “very much an afterthought” in the new system.

“Fee waivers of course help the government’s mess as it reduces its bill,” he said.

“The chaos remains for students and the university system, a system which gets ever more complex and bureaucratic.”

Mr Umunna said that the reforms were “no way to treat our universities” and invoked the words of Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat business secretary, who referred to the dismantling of the Regional Development Agencies as “Maoist and chaotic”.

“That could equally have applied to another area of his brief,” he said.

“Institutions have had to make decisions affecting their future financial viability not knowing how the rules will change month to month.”

He also said that universities had been put in a “ridiculous position” when they were forced to set their fee levels and access agreements before the publication of this summer’s White Paper.

Arguing that the numerous changes to the reforms had been designed to benefit the government, rather than the sector, he said that coalition’s response had been a long way from the “evolutionary change” argued for by UUK.

“‘Core and margin’ is designed to reduce the cost of courses to make up for the government getting its sums wrong – it isn’t for the benefit of students or the higher education sector,” he said.

The four commitments the Labour Party would make on higher education, Mr Umunna said, were: “Fairness for students, autonomy for universities, sustainable funding and universities playing a central role in the economic as well as the cultural life”.

“The bottom line is that universities are integral to our future success as a country,” he added.

sarah.cunnane@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy

sitting by statue

Institutions told they have a ‘culture of excluding postgraduates’ in wake of damning study