glitzfrau: (ueberspod)
[personal profile] glitzfrau
I am not the best authority to comment on the Browne report or the spending review in higher education, but here are my thoughts, anyway:
  • The proposal to strip funding from all but 'core' subjects in the Browne report will necessarily hit languages very hard, and arts subjects in general hard, as we are and will continue to be heavily dependent on teaching funding from the government. It is generally acknowledged that the proposed rise in the fees to a 'soft cap' of £6000 will not cover teaching costs once the government cuts our teaching funding. Departments, faculties and schools will close.

  • There is a myth surrounding arts degrees: the graffiti over the toilet roll holder, saying Arts degrees, please take one. Employers, in the private sector as well as the public sector, love arts graduates, for their critical thinking skills, self-motivation, writing skills, research skills and the rest of the package. Arts graduates are to be found in the most influential positions around the world - Obama, for instance, and if we were to go through the UK cabinet present and past, the number of arts graduates would be very high. Arts skills are essential to the economy, but so far employers aren't prepared to fund them, in the way that they are happy to cross-fund science graduates via industry collaborations with universities. So when departments, faculties and universities shut, unless industry and public sector bodies start funding the arts students they desperately need, the economy will lose a proven, essential high-skills resource. Very foolish.

  • Apparently, free fees in Scotland haven't widened participation; free fees have widened participation mildly in Ireland; moderate fees in England have widened participation significantly. So there is a case to be made for fees. However, the premium promised to graduates at present is only £100,000 increase in earnings over a lifetime, an unlikely figure in any case, and this will shrink as more people have degrees. Further, once students graduate with £50,000 in debt, the attractiveness of that premium will shrink. So I cannot see how this massive hike in fees will not dissuade people on low incomes, and condemn them to a life at the bottom of an economy that, increasingly, relies on graduates, not unskilled or low-skilled workers.

  • Further, has anyone gender-proofed this proposed fees hike? Men may earn enough to pay off their debt and realise a profit; women, who earn less in general and in particular once they have children, may well not.

  • Finally, as Jonathan Freedland said, the entire argument for raising fees is an individualistic one that sees a degree as a commodity, and a university as a service provider for a rational, discriminating sixteen year old consumer. (I have yet to meet this sixteen year old, but if you know the one who does patient, disinterested research into their degree without being influenced at all by their family, class and social group, please let me know.)

    But a degree is a social and personal good. We provide free primary and secondary education because society as a whole could not function without them; increasingly, the same is true of tertiary education, and every other European country subsidises higher education for this reason. Eastern Europe has poured money into higher education in the past ten years, Germany is stepping up its investment; they will reap the rewards, and English young people will be left crushed by a choice between unemployability or massive debt that Czech and French young people will never need to be worried by. This does not strike me as the way to ensure national prosperity.

    Further, higher education provides a cultural resource for a society, of a graduate cohort who have engaged with and created cultural and scientific knowledge, who bring that knowledge into their careers and families and use the skills they have learned at university to better society and the economy. That seems irrelevant to the government, too.

    I am beginning to think that the only way to sell an arts degree to a student in future will not be in terms of value for money - because no non-professional degree will be able to guarantee value for money at £50,000 a pop - nor in terms of employability, but more in the good old-fashioned terms of higher education: the three years at university are valuable in themselves as a wonderful time spent developing the mind. I genuinely believe that this is true. Unfortunately, in the future it looks as though only the very, very privileged English will be able to afford it.

Me, I'm happy to emigrate, as are many other scientists and academics. And I suspect many students will begin to do the same. Why would an English student pay £50,000 for a British degree when they could do a degree at Ghent or Uppsala, in English, for a fraction of the price?

Es wird nichts so heiss gegessen wie es gekocht wird; we will see what will really happen. But these new suggestions are ridiculous.
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