Mr Gadgrind would be very pleased. Higher Education
at a price has arrived in the UK and at last our young will be taught
a lesson in the value of learning.
Well not quite. The UK ( I only include England and Wales in this
as Scotland has gone its own way) has arrived at the usual
Around a third of all higher education national
students pay a thousand pounds a year towards their education, two
thirds do not. All are means-tested and it is usually the least
wealthy of the typically divorced parents who fill out the forms
to gain the best deal. *Students from happily married parents tend
to lose out and have to pay. Theres a lesson in that somewhere.
By a half-assed agenda that exists here, the money
paid in doesnt actually go to the Universities and Colleges,
instead it is a kind of tax on higher education. Worse than that,
each year the government reduces the amounts it pays to these institutions,
which in turn means less and less staff available to teach, less
contact time, bigger seminar groups and a tutorial once a year if
you are lucky.
Purchasing equipment or maintaining what you have
is right down the list, as there is a priority to appoint more management
of higher education institutions, who must be paid at least twice
what academics earn. It is a kind of rule. There are
usually two managers for every full time academic staff member,
supported by around five new clerical jobs to generate more paperwork.
Going to a British College or University is a lottery
at best and the value of a degree varies from establishment to establishment,
judged by perceptions and a national league table that
lists the top 400 higher education providers using such criteria
as residential places for students, the amount of managers per square
inch and research by the academic staff. (It doesnt seem to
the relevance of research).
To combat this hit and miss situation, there is
a proposal to list only the top 20 institutions and only these would
be recommended by , say the British Council Overseas, and they would
be able to charge more for their superior degrees, to
UK nationals and Overseas students. A lot more.
Of course, the UK is a class based society, so this
is very normal concept to establish a two-tier higher education.
But do not think this is like comparing a two year community college
degree with mainlining at MIT. This is Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol
saying we are the top table and rest of you are scum.
Everyone graduating elsewhere would be condemned
for life to be second class - (even if they have a first). Worse,
the elitist structure of UK life is reflected at the very top. The
Prime Minister has surrounded himself with eleven advisors at Number
10. Apparently ten of them are from Oxford. The entire government
is riddled with Oxford/Cambridge advisors as are quasi governmental
controlled organisms such as the BBC. They in turn hand out contracts
to yet more of their fellow graduates. None of these people think
They all earn their living in this intellectual
capital service industry. Thus we have, as our lord and masters,
a group of very influential people who are abandoning manufacturing
and taxing entrepreneurship out of existence. It is a self-perpetuating
elitist sub-culture that eats away at the UK soul.
We shall reap that whirlwind no doubt as no country
in the world aside from Saudi Arabia can exist by imports alone.
It is worth pointing out however that the top self-appointed
20 Universities may not be the best places to study. (Job contacts
in the BBC and the Government aside).
At a mooted price of around £4,500 per year
for UK nationals and more than double that for overseas students,
would they be getting value for money?
The top 20 tend to specialise in theory and although good research
goes on in many of them. They are very reliant on reputation. Youll
find first class libraries , good pubs and a social life, but if
you are paying, is this necessarily enough? Will it carry weight
when you graduate and go back to Indiana or Calcutta or Jakarta.
You might then be competing with students who for a similar price
went to Harvard or Washington State, or Miami, or UBC or Queens
in Eastern Canada. Each of these places has more modern equipment,
better,(possibly) more accessible teaching staff, much better facilities,
many publications, their own TV stations, newspapers, radio stations,
Olympic sized pools, sports arenas, theatres, excellent computer
to student ratios, bookshops, canteens, art galleries and alumni
associations than most of the the UK Colleges and Universities lumped
It is intimidating to go to a place like Miami or
Washington State and see what facilities students have and what
potential they have to achieve life goals. There is no UK Higher
Ed institution that can compete, except on history, tradition,
meat pies and beer.
Take Film Studies, offered at many places in the
UK. Three years of watching films and analysing them will prepare
you for what job exactly? Substitute Film for Mediaeval Studies,
Creative Writing Studies, Media Studies, Social Studies.
Start paying nearly five grand a year for this and your rent and
food, the courses offered in the UK start to look very bad value
for money indeed. Want to study film? Forget a degree. Go to the
Vancouver Film School for 8 months. Pay around $15,000 Canadian
and learn everything there is to know. Digital editing on the latest
equipment, filming, sound, writing, producing. Graduates get jobs.
Employers come looking.
Thats the point isnt it? If students
are to pay and be asked to pay for the privilege of going to an
elite establishment, it had better start offering value for money.
It had better start offering vocational courses with highly specified
I have been to smaller colleges that offer more
than big UK Universities. Small community art colleges such as Flagler
in Florida or big private expensive ones such as Savannah College
offer a students such facilities it just makes one laugh to think
we should charge anyone for what we provide in the UK. And when
we do start charging lots more, dont think that students and
parents wont wake up to the fact that for a few dollars more
their kids will have better opportunities and better degrees or
diplomas from US or Canadian Institutions.
Right now, given the strength of the pound a degree
at SFU or UBC in Vancouver is great value for money (even for an
overseas student) and the skills you can learn there are perfect
for the web based world we are heading towards. You probably wont
get mugged on your way home every night (or be advised to carry
tear gas as Luton students are) and nor will you live in a damp
room with condensation streaming down the windows or be forced to
socialise with people with worse teeth than the average Romanian.
Sure you might crave the cultural diversity of Bradford, but pay
Currently about 15,000 UK students study abroad
every year. That number will only increase.
There are some good modern UK Universities, such
as Nottingham Trent or Sheffield Hallam, but they wont be
allowed in the elite top twenty. Too modern, too resourced based,
too vocational. You might learn something useful. No Ivy. Of course
you might resent having to pay nearly five grand a year to study
in Sheffield and thats the other thing. The value of the social
ammenities and the surroundings will be just as important in a pricing
structure. Given a choice between a College with a beach and sunshine
and Sheffield, even if it does have an Olympic sized pool and some
brilliant courses, at similar prices, students will probably think
If overseas students knew how underfunded our institutions
are over here or how demoralised the staff and just how worthless
a 2.2 is from the bottom 100 in the league tables, they wouldnt
come. If they knew just how many lecturers are pressured into passing
through students by cash strapped University accountants or that
the entire higher education system entirely depends on them coming
here to get a second class education for a over-inflated price,
theyd go elsewhere. Go to Singapore where they take education
seriously or Australia. If you really want value for money, try
UCT in Cape Town. Its a brilliant University with great staff
and facilities. If you really want to study social engineering,
go somewhere like South Africa and see it happen.
In the future it is imperative to buy the education
you need at the place that is prepared to invest enough to deliver
it. Students will pay, but theyll want to emerge with real
vocational and intellectual skills and get real jobs.
Thats no theory.
© SAM NORTH 2000
* Now spare a thought for the students who had to
wait for their A Level results this August - as the computer software