‘Long history’ of students going to university ‘beginning to erode’

Universities are ‘too far’ into degree model to be able to train students with skills needed to boost productivity, says Association of Colleges president

November 23, 2015
Antony Gormley statue
Source: Alamy
Stuck: ‘it’s going to be very difficult for universities to pull back’ from model

Universities have gone “too far” into the business model of providing full-time residential degrees to be able to “adapt” provision to offer the higher technical and professional education needed to boost productivity.

In an interview with Times Higher Education at the Association of Colleges’ annual conference, John Widdowson, the organisation’s president, and Nick Davy, its higher education policy manager, said that young people would start to think twice about the university route once they understood how much debt they would accrue from tuition fees.

Mr Davy said that it was clear that England had a “weak technical and professional education system” because we had “put all our eggs in one basket” of higher education provision and now “that basket was becoming more and more expensive for the individual”.

“It seems to me we have a mismatch between what we’re supplying and what the demands are,” he said. “If we’re going to develop a technical and professional stream, it’s the colleges that have got the expertise and the links with local employers and labour markets.

“The universities have been given the opportunity, and I don’t think they’re particularly interested in short-cycle higher education.”

Mr Davy added that England’s “cultural heritage” of young people going off to university at 18 had blinded many to the fact that they would face substantial debt when they leave.

“It’s only going to be April 2016 when [the first set of students paying £9,000 tuition fees] get the first bill through the door,” he said. “At the moment, [there] hasn’t been anything. Young people don’t have a concept of debt in the way that perhaps older people do.

“That long history in England of going away to a university, I think that will begin to erode. Not completely, because it’s still very much part of our culture, but [it will].”

Mr Widdowson said that universities had “moved away from” skills provision to focusing on full-time undergraduate programmes.

“Either universities adapt [or they don’t], but they’ve probably gone too far into the business model of substantial full-time student numbers, driving substantial income that requires them to do certain things,” he said. “It’s going to be very difficult for them to pull back from that.”

Elsewhere, Lord Blair of Boughton, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who delivered a keynote speech at the conference on leadership in difficult times, told THE that the academic community had its part to play in countering the radicalisation of young people in light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

Although it would be wrong for the government to require academics to “take notes” on their students, he said, universities and their staff cannot think: “I’m not going to take any notice of extreme behaviour and extreme thought, that’s not my job.”

“It’s for the university sector to accept that this is a problem: 129 people died in Paris,” he said. “It’s not all their problem, there are other places where people get radicalised, but they do have an in loco parentis position to protect young people,” Lord Blair said.

“I would say the government has a right to ask the academic sector to do its part. All the academic sector has to do is take the leadership role of determining what that might be.”


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 6 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


Print headline: Rising cost will ‘erode’ long history of students going away to university

Reader's comments (1)

that is really write

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest