In defence of marching against fees

I have big issues with this article.

This article focusses wholly on fees, rather than the marketisation of Higher Education and the impact that this will and already does have on universities and students.

Yes the fees debate has clouded the wider debate around  marketisation, but I’d suggest that Cameron waited to announce the HE Green Paper until after last week’s demo for precisely this reason – to undermine students and anyone who believes in a publicly owned and sustainable Higher Education sector.

What governments have and are doing is make education something to be bought and sold. We no longer talk about the value of higher education to society, we don’t talk about providing opportunity for those who have been let down by society, and we don’t talk about Higher Education as a way of improving the life chances of young people from poorer backgrounds.

Rather we talk about the monetary value of a degree and how many students universities can get through the door, with little consideration for the learning gain of those students. Universities are competing to provide the same courses – not innovating, not driving up standards, not focussing on the quality of the education provided. In far too many cases it’s about satisfaction scores, league tables, the bottom line, and new glossy buildings.

Lifting the caps on student numbers is nothing to be proud or pleased about – more universities are accepting more students in order to survive in a market, where more students are being accepted with poorer grades who are then failed by the system. Leaving with enormous debt (whatever type of debt that may be) with very little gain and with poorer experiences because the education system isn’t built to accommodate anyone who wants a higher education.  A number of demographics are typically not satisfied with their academic experiences and are less likely to leave university with a ‘good degree’, and forcing universities to compete only makes that worse.

“As a result, a poor youngster is almost twice as likely to attend university in England than in the tuition fee-free Scotland.” – yes, but are those students leaving University with the same grades as their better off counterparts? Typically, no. Universities are still built to educate the few – this can be seen in the way that teaching is delivered, learning is measured, and the content of curricula. White, euro-centric and male.

Recent proposals by the government will not ‘level the playing field’ for universities or students, and will rather create a market where universities will be charging (possibly 4 levels of) different fees. We’ll see poorer students who are put off by fees will going to ‘less prestigious’ institutions which fail to meet the government’s ridiculous Teaching Excellence Framework (an excuse to raise fees) which will do very little to drive up teaching standards considering the measures that will be used to give universities ‘Excellence’ in teaching.

Oh and this sounds great but the reality is that this money does very little to make a university education transformative for disadvantaged people –

“Most importantly, every university that charges full fees has to spend at least a third of the increase on poor students.”

This money is mostly spent on outreach activities which encourage children to consider university, but does very little to improve the academic outcomes of disadvantaged young people who choose the university route. Get more into University but what type of system are we getting them into?

Governments can’t expect to up-skill the country’s workforce if part-time study is out of reach for so many people. The evidence showing that fees have had a negative affect on part-time study is overwhelming at both undergraduate and postgraduate students. We consider ‘students’ as a homogenised group of people, in a homogenised system where everyone’s competing to do the same thing, and it’s damaging our internationally recognised higher education system. Neither this article or many others talk about part-time study and the implications of restricting access to part-time study has on disadvantaged young people or adult learners.

We’re right to oppose further fees and oppose the government’s marketisation of higher education, and the recent HE Green Paper should be a call to action for everyone who wants to protect the value of higher education in the UK.


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