Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Triple squeeze on students

Young people seeking a place in higher education seem likely to be facing a triple squeeze in future. And it is the aspirations of those from the poorest backgrounds which are most likely to be shattered as a result.

The first squeeze is the point to which I've referred on many occasions, namely the introduction of tuition fees and top-up fees. Although I think it's the wrong approach, I can see how others might think - from a purely hard-nosed economic perspective - that concentrating support on those most in need is a rational way forward. However, I have no doubt that it has been a direct deterrent to those from less affluent backgrounds who wish to attend university.

The second is direct government decisions to reduce the number of places which are available. Again, faced with major economic difficulties, the decision may appear rational, but it would fly in the face of experience to believe that the cutbacks will have an equal effect across the social spectrum.

And the third is the increasing extent to which our HE institutions are seeking to attract overseas students who can be charged a higher level of fees, and therefore assist the balance sheets of the institutions. Again, from the point of view of those taking the decisions, this is an entirely rational thing to do in economic terms, but the higher the proportion of places filled from overseas, the lower the proportion available to our own young people.

It isn't just the institutions themselves who are actively seeking more overseas students, of course. The government-funded British Council is actively involved in promoting the opportunities to overseas students, as this recent article by the Director of its Executive Board made clear. (Although how effective their efforts are is another question, as I noted recently).

Governments are extremely fond of talking about the need for education and training to produce the skilled workforce we need for the future, but actions speak louder than words, and some of the actions are taking us in the opposite direction.

1 comment:

Spirit of BME said...

Mr Dixon, HE have bought their economic woes on themselves , they are bloated on 10 years of government crack supplied by the Canary Wharf tax take and like all takers of the magic powder they can not think straight or get the will to come off it and do something.
The quality of their output in this "golden decade" has been (let me be generous)- mediocre.
The solution is 30% cut in pay, a slimming down of the structures and a radical change in pension provision. Welcome to the real world. What a shower!!!.