Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Winners and losers from changes in higher education funding

Today’s media coverage of the University and College Union’s report on the future financial health has helpfully broadened the current debate. The report (pdf available) warns that More than a third of England's universities may be forced to close or merge as a result of changes in higher education finance. (I do feel sorry for the four institutions which have been flagged up as particularly vulnerable – they are even more so today.)

There can be some scope for debate over the report’s methodology. For example, the report gives a higher risk score where the university admits significant numbers of disadvantaged students. Research commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council (pdf available) shows that in the past the introduction of fees has not substantially affected access to universities for disadvantaged students. (Of course, as Coalition spokespeople point out as often as possible: the increased fees will be paid by graduates rather than students on entry.)

Maybe the most badly affected universities will be those who fail to offer their customers value for money. Newer universities and further education colleges may be well placed to offer students a focus on teaching and vocationally orientated qualifications – as well as the savings and convenience (for young people!) of studying while living at home.

There will certainly be significant turbulence in the universities sector from higher fees and reductions by about three-quarters in teaching grants. However, the winners and losers are likely to be different from those identified by the University and College Union report.

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