08 June 2011

No need for private universities in the UK

The current government's higher education strategy is now in a complete mess - although it must be said that previoius governments have contributed.  Two strategies were evolved by this governement: allow universities to charge up to £9000 a year for an undergraduate programme; and encourage the development of private universities.  Budgeting was done on the assumption that the average cost of a course would be £7,000 but now more than half of the universities will be charging the maximum - problem number one.

Problem number 2 is that very few organizations appear to be coming forward to create private universities and one that has is now under investigation in the USA for suspected fraud - welcome to the world of big business Mr. Cameron.  A bunch of presumably right-leaning academics, including Richard Dawkins - noted evolutionary biologist - have also proposed a new university college offering courses in the humanities but, hello!, what's this - it turns out that the published syllabuses have been ripped off from existing courses in the University of London - welcome to the world of the self-seeking academic, Mr. Cameron.

Further problems exist with the government seeking to adopt an 'American' approach to higher education - and why that dysfunctional system is of any interest at all to us, I do not know - which are outlined by Howard Hotson in an article in the London Review of Books for the 19th May.  He points out that the "72 US universities in the top 200 [world wide] represent fewer than 5 per cent of those offering four-year degrees" (there are 5,758 recognized HE insitutions in the US). By contrast, the 29 UK universities in the world's top 200 represent almost 20% of the 165 insitutions in the UK.  This means that the chance of a UK student attending a top university is much greater in the UK than it is in the USA - in other words, the UK system of publicly funded higher education works.  Hotson points out that it also works in terms of value for money and he notes that "If value for money is the most important consideration, especially in an age of austerity, the American model might well be the last one that Britain should be emulating".

Will Hotson's analysis make the slightest difference to government policy?  Of course not - the Tories are wedded to the notion of the market, come what may, they are ideologically incapable of rational analysis and, therefore, the decline of the higher education system in England and Wales will continue - the Scots need to be thankful that education is in their hands, not in those of the idiots in Westminster. 

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