Hundreds of academics have signed a document, published today, that warns of dire consequences should the [UK] government’s white paper on higher education become law. The document, In Defence of Public Higher Education, endorsed by a wide range of prominent academics, including Stefan Collini, of Cambridge University, and Howard Hotson, of Oxford, offers an alternative to the government’s vision for the sector in the form of nine propositions about higher education’s value to society. Drawing on recent research, it also argues that the changes proposed are based on ideology rather than financial necessity, and will make no lasting savings…
The document’s nine propositions are that higher education has public as well as private benefits and these public benefits require financial support; that public universities are necessary to build and maintain confidence in public debate; that public universities have a social mission and help to ameliorate social inequality; that public higher education is part of a generational contract in which an older generation invests in the wellbeing of future generations; that public institutions providing similar programmes of study should be funded at a similar level; that education cannot be treated as a simple consumer good; that training in skills is not the same as university education – something the title of a university should recognise; that a university is a community made up of different disciplines and of different activities of teaching, research and external collaboration; and finally that universities are not only global institutions, but also serve their local and regional communities.
A separate appendix makes the case that switching the costs of tuition from grants to loan-backed fees may reduce the deficit in the short term, but is an accounting trick. In the long term, debt could increase as students default or write off loan repayments, and tax revenues from those who reject higher education as too expensive are lost.
It also accuses the government of wanting eventually to introduce a pricing mechanism based on how much of the loans made to students studying specific degrees at specific institutions are repaid.