Tuesday, 3 May 2011

White Smoke at the Hegemon

Well, we've finally heard what tuition fees we'll be charging from next year.

Drum roll?

£8500. The government said the 'average' should be £6000, with a few exceptions charging more. It turns out that virtually everyone is charging £9000 with a few going as low as £7500. It was entirely predictable: the government funding that's been withdrawn came to about £7500, so that's the absolute minimum anyone could charge.

Like my Vice-Chancellor, I opposed fees. But if we have to have them, I'd have gone for the extra £500 per year and charged £9000. Why not? It's not a huge extra burden on the students compared with charging £8500.

Underlying the government's stupid plan was an implicit class system. They thought that the elite universities could charge the £9000 top whack, and the rest of us would scrabble around in the bargain basement looking to undercut each other. The rich kids could go to Oxford and the poor would look to save a few thousand, knowing that the top-paying jobs would go to those at the Russell Group universities.

It doesn't work like that. Lots of the best jobs aren't the best-paying ones, for a start: university teaching is an example, as is social work. But the Tories and their Lib Dem conspirators only think in terms of pay.

They also assumed that universities like mine would be happy to carry on offering cut-price no-frills teaching. Why should we? Why shouldn't we aim to get better and better? Why should the Oxbridge class (which already possess £billions in their coffers, attract legacies, endowments and own huge amounts of land) be encouraged to leave us in their dust while we're assumed to plod along struggling. I'd like this place to attract Nobel Prize winning staff and high-flying students - but it costs money. The fees regime announces the end of aspiration for the majority of students but for institutions too. Places like mine need the money more than the Dreaming Spires.


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