Sunday, 10 May 2009

Student loans

Are student loans a good idea?

Certainly as they are implemented in the UK, they serve no one well. The level of tuition fees is set too low to fund Universities properly. (The under funding of higher education gives the lie to Blair's 'Education, Education, Education'. Schools might have done well under Labour, but Universities have not.) Yet they are set high enough to discourage some students from applying to University, particularly those who have a higher aversion to taking on debt or less experience at doing multi-year cost/benefit analysis - and that is primarily the children of the less well off.

In short, we have a classic Nu-Labour half a hard on situation (as in there is nothing worse than...) Either fees need to raised very substantially, so that at least Universities are not losing money on every undergraduate educated. Or England needs to follow Scotland in ending the experiment with loans, with a more-than-matching increase in government spending on Universities.

The quality of teaching in English higher education is falling; contact hours are declining; and equipment is often laughably bad. The only thing that will fix these issues is money. If we want as many students in University as we have at the moment, someone is going to have to spend more. And even if we don't, accepting that the Blairite push to higher numbers was overdone, then the spend per student needs to increase. If it doesn't, the English University system will keep getting worse.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Tales of a Starbucks Addict said...

Good post, although no one seems to question the supply side of the equation. It seems to me that we have moved from a public funded, public maintained system to a private one without any thought to the potential oversupply from the public era.

Why does Canterbury need two universities (both built in the 1960's) why does Brighton need two?

Whilst I agree with Zanu Labor's ideal of getting a system whereby even the most underprivalidged can should not be detered from going to Uni, we now have a situation where you 'need' a degree for a call center job because many more people are going to Uni.

In my view we have demand that is too high (they havent looked at what they will do with a degree) and we have supply side with costs that are too high (because prices are capped)
Chris

12:56 pm  
Blogger David Murphy said...

Thank you Chris - most interesting.

I completely agree with you about the supply side: if we gave more respect to vocational qualifications, some of the over-supply would go away. It is utterly silly for an employer to think that, say, a 3rd class degree in Entrepreneurship in Hospitality from the University of Brighton is worth more than a relevant HND just because it is a degree.

What the democratisation of universities has done, paradoxically, is narrow the range of good universities. In the 1980s, there were good departments scattered all over the place and many courses in an almost Russell group university were pretty nearly as good as the same course in an elite institution. Now standards trail off much faster outside the top 10 (although which ten that is varies from subject to subject).

Finally thanks for the term Zanu Labour. Most evocative. I shall be using that one...

1:56 pm  

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