I am writing as a
constituent to express my deep concern at the cuts proposed by the Coalition to the government’s
funding support of undergraduate teaching in universities.
My main concern is with
the Coalition’s decision to use Browne’s recommended freeing-up of student fees
as the ‘pretext’ for withdrawing all support for undergraduate teaching except
in ‘priority’ areas (science, medical, languages). The result will be a massive
distortion, first, in the organization of the HEI sector and, second, in prospective
students’ decision-making between courses.
The narrow definition of
courses that will attract continuing support is wrong-headed, even in economic
terms. I teach on arts, humanities and social science courses, specifically in
media, and can see how they contribute directly to the development of the
creative industries which are now one of our principal export successes: at
£16.6 billion in 2007, they represented 45.5% of all exports. David Cameron has
identified them as an important growth area in rebalancing the economy.
Yet these courses are likely
to lose all government support for their teaching, making them entirely vulnerable
to short-term shifts in student demand. It is one thing to be open to some exposure
to the pressures of student demand: but that is very different from receiving
no infrastructural support from government whatsoever to underpin long-term
financial planning. All university subjects are simply too important to the
long-term future of our nation to be left entirely to the whims of fashion.
teaching support – with the inevitable consequence that universities will
have to raise fees very significantly in times of economic uncertainty – is an
extraordinary form of short-termism. It will install one criterion, and one
criterion only, as the factor guiding student choice of degree: what job with
what level of salary will this degree help me get?
The inevitable long-term
result will be a narrowing of the range of courses on offer in English
universities. It will lead to a two-tier system with a small number of elite
institutions open to the rich, and a regional system of largely vocational
consequences for entrenching social inequality and inequality of opportunity
still further through the education system are clear.
Our university system is
highly regarded around the world, and is itself a significant generator of
revenue for the UK because it can attract large numbers of overseas students. I
would urge you to work to reverse this ill-advised policy before irreparable
damage is done to it.