Changes to universities controversial

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The current coalition is not the most popular government amongst students, nor is it particularly popular in general, due to the sweeping measures of austerity it has implemented in a bid to drag the country out of recession. It has, to a certain extent, succeeded in doing this. However, the titanic raise in the cost of tuition fees, a policy originally opposed by the very man who now holds his seat as Deputy Prime Minister, is still a sore spot for many students. A large majority of students would agree that they have been somewhat let down by government and Nick Clegg.

The proposal to remove limits on the number of student places in England has been met with some scepticism by representatives of the student community. The policy is to be implemented from April of 2015 and could produce a 20% increase in the number of undergraduate students in England. The Higher Education Policy Institute has challenged the proposals and warned that they would put a “severe strain” on University budgets. The institute’s director, Nick Hillman, said, “One critical outstanding question is how the policy is to be paid for.” The impetus of an extra 180,000 students in English Universities will result in a staggering decline in the amount spent on each student’s education as well as alterations to loans and fees to accommodate a higher number of students. This grey area has prompted Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the UCU Lecturer’s Union to add “Higher education is not something to be piled high and provided on the cheap.”

uniVarious government spokesmen, however, have defended the policy, stating that reducing limits on student numbers will ‘remove the cap on aspiration.’ The Department for Business innovation and Skills are selling the proposal as an investment in young people, a vote of confidence that is hoped will boost the economy as well as galvanise social mobility for those less well off. The Higher Education Policy Institute has taken a rather cynical view, publishing a report which suggested the new proposals are an “aspirational policy” to be spun out of the coalition’s propaganda machine in the run up to the general election. Wendy Piatt, head of the Russell Group universities, has also questioned the sincerity of the government’s new idea. Commenting on the Institute’s report she cautiously warned “While the policy is admirable in its intention to widen access, the government needs to clearly spell out where the extra funding will be found and introduce robust quality controls.”

There is certainly something invidious in implementing policies that will undoubtedly stretch university budgets in a period of supposed austerity. The proposals supply something that is not in demand. Come A-level results day, universities begin desperately searching for prospective students to fill vacant places. Research suggests that, without limits on student numbers, there will need to be more recruitment of students from within the European Union. The resistance from the student community against the new proposals is something to be supported. Although the scheme may well have its benefits for the economy and the government, it will almost definitely be to the detriment of the student, which the policy claims to be investing. These proposals will result in English students either taking on even more debt or receiving a substantially lower standard of education, whilst students in Scotland and other EU countries will be getting their degrees for free.

Photo credited to Thomas W

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Harry Brennan is a Modern Languages student. He writes about British national politics.

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