Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Two points on university fees

Leaving aside the trauma of Liberal Democrat MPs who signed the pledge to oppose increases in tuition fees for the moment, there are two points that need reiterating this evening.

The first is the one I made yesterday. Once a university education became the normal expectation of approaching half the nation's young people, sooner or later the system of funding the sector from education was bound to collapse.

The second is the question asked by Jackie Ashley in the Guardian yesterday. She wrote:
Isn't it bonkers to wrap up the cost of university research with the job of teaching 19-year-olds? Shouldn't the funding be divided? Most students know a good researcher isn't necessarily a good teacher. The top-notch universities have to be pushed to focus on other ways of paying for research – including business links, sponsorship and alumni funds.
All of which suggests that there is more to Greg Mulholland's call for a wider review of higher education than a wish to dodge the fees question.

4 comments:

Rod Duncan said...

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this issue, I can't help feeling that the Liberal Democrats are perhaps underestimating the extent of the backlash they will receive if they bring about a doubling of fees when they went into the election saying they'd get rid of them altogether.

Mark said...

I agree with Jackie Ashley that the funding for research should be separate from that of teaching, but it largely is already.

Where I disagree with her is in thinking that any of the alternatives to state funding are viable.

Businesses are a good source of funding for research that they are interested in, but not in anything that doesn't have a direct commercial benefit - many people think universities are already too involved with businesses. Alumni tend to be more interested in supporting teaching than research.

Phil Beesley said...

Jackie Ashley underestimates the complexity of university internal funding and logistics.

Many departments cross fund home UG teaching from research income because the cost of a first degree is greater than income from government and fees. This is common for expensive disciplines such as Geology or Chemistry. Departments partially do this in order to attract bright UGs who will become bright research students. It is also seen as important to have a strong UG teaching department to attract taught PGs.

The long vacation is a necessity for universities that are tight on space. The only opportunity to repair and build is when the majority of staff and students are away. Holidays are also the times when staff are able to conduct research and develop study materials. Universities design activity around the long vacation and reorganisation would not be trivial.

For many students, the long vacation is an opportunity to earn money, care for children and conduct private study. Long courses may not be the best solution for all students.

Overall though, I think that HE is in such a pickle that examining all options is essential.

dreamingspire said...

My experience throughout the 1970s, riding the bucking bronco of what pays for what in a couple of universities, echoes Phil's observations. Only last week I was explaining to a new, slightly mature (and a little scared) university student that, despite all the maelstrom that is a university, its your opportunity to broaden your mind.