It’s getting quite hard to justify some of the universities that have chosen to charge the full £9,000 a year. It was easy to do with the choices made a few months ago, when all those that declared the full limit were members of either the Russell Group or the 1994, but now some of the additions are worrying.
Recent additions have been: Keele, City, and University College Falmouth. These join the list alongside Liverpool John Moores and University of Central Lancashire that are neither members of the 1994 or Russell Groups. If this becomes in any way the norm then we have a potentially, horrifying problem on our hands. Firstly there is no reason that these universities should be charging such atrocious rates for the second or third-rate institutions. If my old university decides to charge full amount I will be disgusted. The fees increase could have allowed for a progressive level of cost based on the quality of the institution. It would have been fair if Southampton Solent charged £3,000 a year and Oxbridge charged £9,000. You are paying for the level of education you receive.
This would not be my ideal plan of course. Granting these lower institutions the permission to give their students a ‘degree’ that, comparatively, is worthless is a hideous experiment on the children of the future. I am still a firm believer that the bottom sixty or so universities should have their university status removed. I welcome those universities to exist as educational centres of some capacity, as long as they don’t call the services offered a ‘degree’. It is unfair to the pupils who will study there.
So allow me to be optimistic for a second. Perhaps the tuition fees increase will allow us to debate higher education in general. If the likes of Middlesex or South Bank or East London started charging £9,000 a year, then maybe it will make the general public question what they are getting for their money. Speaking from experience, most members of the public seem to realise the difference in quality between our best and worst universities. The people who don’t notice the difference, are the people at the worst institutions. Some (rational) level of national debate needs to happen with our universities, but also the careers advisors of failing secondary schools need to change as well. They need to stop telling their pupils (as I know they have done) that going to any university is better than not going at all. They need to stop telling their pupils that the difference between our worst and best is small (as I know some have done). They need to stop fulfilling the New Labour, Blairite dream of
completely devaluing education and our university system getting 50% of people into university.
The entire educational reform that this country needs is going to take a long time, but perhaps this increase in fees will help invigorate public debate that is necessary. Well, let’s hope so.