Is our Higher Education policy Frankenstein’s Monster? By bolting together a centralised state system that treats all universities as equals, and a funding system that puts the financial burden on graduates, we have built a hybrid freak that is the worst of both worlds. Students are now consumers, acutely aware that they will be paying for their degrees once they graduate, but they are entering a market place that has been left unreformed despite the major change in the way higher education is funded. Like all state-dominated markets, it is skewed, and serves neither the needs of students, employers or the wider economy.
A degree at the University of Oxford will soon cost students £9,000 a year, whilst London Metropolitan, some 118 lower in the rankings, also has courses that cost £9,000. This is a market place where the best degrees in the world costs the same as one from an institution where 1 in 5 students drop out. The problem is compounded by rationing places at the strongest universities, thereby supplying students to the weaker ones and guaranteeing them an income of £6,000 per student. The weakest universities are left with little incentive to improve and students have limited opportunity to vote with their feet.
The Government’s reforms will make students more demanding - as they will have to, eventually, pay for the education they receive. No longer will they accept a couple of hours of tuition a week and limited numbers of lectures. They will want to know what they will get for their money and what their chances of employment will be after graduation.