Laurie Chen reports on the drastic proposals announced in the government’s Higher Education green paper
The government has recently published a new plan that will allow England’s best universities to charge more than £9,000 per year in tuition fees, starting from 2017.
According to the proposals outlined in the latest Higher Education green paper published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, a newly set-up Office for Students (OfS) could replace existing university agencies as a central body for ranking universities based on their student satisfaction scores, teaching quality and employment outcomes.
Universities that perform well in these areas will then be allowed to raise their tuition fees in line with inflation rates, marking what may be the biggest higher education reform since fees were first introduced in 1992. Since then, university tuition fees have been capped at £9,000 per year after they were raised from £3,000 in 2012.
The green paper was published on Friday, only two days after thousands of students marched through central London to protest against the government’s proposed scrapping of student maintenance grants.
The minister for higher education, Jo Johnson, acknowledged there were some inconsistencies in standards at British universities, which he feels that the proposed changes would improve. He said:
While there is a lot of excellence, there is also, as the sector acknowledges, patchiness and variability in and between institutions. We’re helping the sector address that patchiness so we drive up the quality of teaching for everybody. Students should come out of their university years feeling they’ve got value for money for their time there. Unfortunately, there are too many students coming out feeling that they haven’t, and I want to address that.
The proposals were also welcomed by Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of the Universities UK lobby group and vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, who said: “The recognition of high-quality teaching in our universities is a welcome step. But we must ensure this exercise is not an additional burden for those teaching in our universities and that it provides useful information for students, parents, and employers.”
However, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) were quick to criticise the planned changes. The student activist group, who organised last week’s Free Education #GrantsNotDebt rally, said in a tweet: “The vision in #HEgreenpaper is of students as customers, education as a commodity, and universities as businesses. Neoliberal wet dream”
They further added in a press release:
Our fight for Free Education is entering a new stage. Our positive vision is of education funded by taxing the wealth that exists in the bank accounts of multinationals and billionaires, with a free curriculum based on the common interests of all is now contrasted with a vision of education crushed into the shape of a market, serving the interests of a few at the top of society not the huge majority, and smashing all the mechanisms we have to democratically challenge the government.
The National Union of Students also opposed the green paper’s proposals. President Megan Dunn said:
Teaching should always be a key focus of higher education, but the NUS is adamant the teaching excellence framework should not be linked to an increase in fees. Students should not be treated like consumers.
Featured image credit: Sam Fearnley