Let’s do better: White Paper critics call for ‘visionary’ alternative

A group of academics and students has launched a drive for an “alternative” higher education White Paper in response to what they describe as the “sweeping, ill-considered reforms” set out in the government’s document.

July 9, 2011

The move – backed by the Campaign for the Public University and protest groups at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Sussex and Warwick – aims to produce a genuine “vision” for the sector. It is seeking contributions with the intention of publishing in September.

To get things started, the academics have released a comprehensive response to the proposals laid out in the White Paper, which they say “reverses the direction for the future of higher education set out by the Dearing Report in 1997”.

Attacking the government’s policies on several levels, the response claims that student number controls will create an “explicitly elite group of universities” accessible only to the most advantaged groups in society.

It says that moving the costs of higher education on to individuals is “a shift from all people in Britain having an interest in this education, towards it becoming something that is only sensibly embarked upon if it is in the private interest of an individual or their family. This is not visionary, it is myopic.”

The response adds: “The White Paper is introducing a system that redistributes monies from poorer families (including the median family in Britain, one that is currently getting poorer already), and from many very young adults towards older adults without dependent children who will no longer be taxed to help pay for the education of the next generation.”

John Holmwood, professor of sociology at the University of Nottingham, and Andrew McGettigan, a philosopher, wrote the response, which also features contributions from academics including Howard Hotson, professor of early modern intellectual history at the University of Oxford.

It labels the student loan system “complex, insufficient and volatile” and says there is a “real possibility” that future governments may have to make the system less progressive to pay for its upkeep.

The authors also note that although the White Paper forecasts that student loan debt will hit £70 billion by 2017-18, it “does not provide an estimate for when annual repayments begin to match or exceed new annual outlay”.

The statement attacks moves to allow more for-profit providers into the system and says the government’s plans for a “core and margin” model to increase competition among universities will “tear the heart out of the system” and result in recruitment replacing teaching “as the primary aim of the university”.

Those drafting the Alternative White Paper ask for contributions to be sent to altwhitepaper@live.co.uk by 2 September. They plan to publish the document to coincide with the end of the government’s consultation on its reforms.

simon.baker@tsleducation.com

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