Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Another piece of the Uni funding jigsaw

Michael Gove has at last announced the amount universities will be able to charge in fees - there is a cap of 9k per year. This is almost three times the tuition fees at present. Now we must look at the wrapping. There is a cap of 6k per year with the extra 3k per year chargeable if universities make efforts to attract students from poorer backgrounds. They’ll be no quota levels, but the Office of Fair Access (a QUANGO still in existence) will monitor universities and, apparently, will be able to force them to mend their ways.

Under the new plans students won’t start paying back their fees until they earn over 21k per year (a raising of that threshold) and will pay 9 per cent of their income; interest will be at an above inflation rate. We’re led to understand that students who pay back loans quicker will pay a penalty in lieu of the interest they won’t be paying. But, we also understand, students from well-healed backgrounds who can borrow from family and thus pay their fees in advance (no loan therefore) will be able to do so.

That’s most of the public school pupils, no doubt. (Have you noticed that Gove, in his quest for fairness in education, never mentions public schools? Oxford graduate in English, Gove, was, apparently, educated in a private school in Aberdeen, on a scholarship. His estimated wealth is around 1 million pounds.)

This increase in student fees is to cover the vast removal of funds by the ConDem government (no subsidy for arts and humanities teaching.) What will universities do now? Increase fees for arts and humanities courses? Or increase all their fees and cross subsidise? If this is the case the public subsidy issue becomes something of an accounting red-herring.

The system is, like so many of this government’s half-baked policies, going to be a mess left for others to sort out.

One thing that is certain is that some high-up university personnel will cosy up to Gove (ghastly thought.) Like Michael Arthur, vice chancellor of the University of Leeds; he’s chair of the Russell Group of universities. He told the BBC: ‘What this does is send a very loud signal that the government recognises the importance of higher education to the future of our country, its economy and our ability as universities to help the country out of recession.’ Nothing could be further from the truth! It’s to be hoped Leeds Uni students see this and let him know what they think.

All students need to keep fairly and squarely in mind that each LibDem MP, as part of their election campaign, signed a pledge against an increase in tuition fees. I say no more (until the next time.)

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