15 March 2011

Follow up to yesterday's entry

Those bewildered by British government policy on higher education (including, perhaps, some of the Ministers!) might 'enjoy' the article in today's Guardian.

The whole business become farcical with Ministers at loggerheads with one another over the issue of visas for overseas students and at war with the universities in seeking to limit student fees having taken the decision to increase them!  If this was a novel about academic life, it wouldn't be believed.

The interesting thing is that in the UK we have different policies for the different constituent parts: e.g., Scotland does not charge fees except to students from England!  And students are voting with their feet: recent articles have commented on English students going to Maastricht University, where the fees are lower, and to Trinity College, Dublin, where they pay no fees at all.  In both places they still have living costs, of course, but they'd have those costs in England in any case.

The only answer to this problem (apart from a policy change from government, which is highly unlikely) is for the universities to exert their independence.  They are, after all, legally autonomous bodies: their dependency on government has resulted from their dependence on government funding to support their teaching and research.  Making the break and depending solely on student fees and research income from whatever sources, would be horrendously difficult but, as far as I can see, it is the only viable alternative.  Otherwise, they will be increasingly subject to even greater control.  The Guardian article notes:
The coalition is considering a Soviet-style central intervention policy to effectively fine individual universities if they impose unreasonable tuition fees next year.
It would be interesting to know what legal basis exists for government to fine independent legal entities.

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