Tories to blame for HE in England being among most expensive globally – no amount of PR waffle will detract from that

Janet Downs's picture

Theresa May’s speech on university tuition fee reform omitted one salient fact:  it was the Coalition government which raised fees to up to £9k from 2012.   The then universities minister David Willetts said the move was ‘progressive’.  

The Million+ group of new universities warned the proposed rise was ‘very unlikely’ to provide a ‘long-term and sustainable basis’ for university funding.

And so it has proved.  May admits the cost of higher education (HE) in England is among the most expensive in the world.  This is perhaps something she should have thought of when she voted in favour of raising the university fee cap to £9k back in 2010.

But May is going to do something about this lamentable state of affairs.  She’s announced a review – it will take up to a year.

May said, rightly, there is prejudice against technical education.  It was ever thus.  For decades in England, technical education has been viewed as less worthy than the academic.  Technical education, as I was told when I failed to achieve a high enough score to enter the local grammar school, was for those who ‘were good with their hands’.  The message was clear: brain work was superior to anything which could be applied.

Since 2010, prejudice against technical education has worsened.  EBacc and pressure to offer ‘facilitating’ A levels (those allegedly more valued by universities) together with constant praise for schools which aspire to send all pupils to university have further downgraded technical subjects.   Many schools now use ‘unashamedly academic’ as a Unique Selling Point.  An internet search throws up dozens of examples including a tweet from schools minister Nick Gibb in December 2017. 

A major speech about education wouldn’t be complete without self-congratulatory padding about the wonderfulness of education reform since 2010.  May spouted the inevitable phrase about there being 1.8 million pupils in good or better schools since 2010.  She praised the academies programme seemingly oblivious to the fact that it’s in the primary sector where academies are in the minority which has seen the largest increase in good or better Ofsted judgements.   And a large number of outstanding judgements predate academy conversion – they apply to schools when they were the much-maligned ‘council schools’. 

Free schools, another post-2010 initiative, have some of the best GCSE results, May chirruped.  But so did converter academies, sponsored academies, local authority maintained schools, faith schools and non-faith schools.  And if it’s true to say, as the New Schools Network constantly does, that free schools are among the best schools as judged by Progress 8 (P8) then it’s also true to say that free schools as a group have more schools with below average P8 scores than any other type of school except UTCs and Studio Schools.  

The high cost of higher education which falls on English students is entirely due to policies passed since 2010.  No amount of self-satisfied puff nor a creakingly slow review can detract from that.

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agov's picture
Tue, 20/02/2018 - 11:09

Well, up to a point.

It was not Conservatives but NuLabour (- not much difference perhaps but still not all the responsibility of just one part of the misruling class) that introduced tuition fees in 1998. Of course they were subsequently increased (by the Coalition government, no matter how much the despicable Liberals pretend that nothing it did had anything to do with them). They were always going to be.

The increase came about following the Browne Review: Wikipedia has an interesting article about it. It might be felt that Mandelson had his fingerprints all the Review - "Lord Browne has been described by The Telegraph as "one of New Labour's favourite businessmen"" and the committee's conduct had interesting features.
The Russell Group made two submissions to the Review. The second stated "lifting the cap on tuition fees was the only “viable and fair” way of financing higher education and that the “liberalisation of the fee regime” was a future aim". Fees continue to be a very nice little earner for universities -; especially when they can be such an enriching experience -
Not of course that that means the whole lot of them are in it together. Absolutely not. At all.

John Bajina's picture
Tue, 20/02/2018 - 18:05

The high cost of higher education is entirely due to Tory policies.
There is a direct correlation between Leaders wishing to appear Tough/Strong, push through austerity/hardship, and bad policy making. This is true at Government as well as Local level. In my LA several privatised services have had to be taken back in-house, costing us the tax payer several millions.
(This is not political commentary, it is facts as we reap now)

agov's picture
Wed, 21/02/2018 - 07:53

Give or take the odd inconvenient fact.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/02/2018 - 08:04

agov - you are right that charging university tuition fees began under Labour.  But the Tories with the support of the Lib-Dems (a tit-for-tat for free school meals for 5-7 yeaar-olds I believe) tripled the fees.  It was this tripling of fees which contributed to making university education one of the most costly in the world.

May is hypocritical in her attitude.  She voted against Labour plans for tuition fees but voted for the tripling of the fees in 2010.  Now she's acting all concerned for no other reason than to attract the votes of young people.

She's also being divisive by pitting those who go to uni and those who don't.  It's not fair, she says, that the latter should support the former who go on to benefit from their education by earning higher wages.  But those who receive higher wages also pay more taxes (a way of recouping any cost to the taxpayer).  At the same time society needs the jobs which can only be accessed via uni (eg doctors, teachers, pharmacists, lawyers etc).

agov's picture
Thu, 22/02/2018 - 13:10

They did indeed Janet but it was obviously the intention of NuLab to do exactly the same and it was them who set up the conditions for it to occur.
Shock news - politicians do hypocrisy.
Obviously Labour's creation is a mess as it was always going to be.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 22/02/2018 - 16:05

agov - you're right that Labour set up the unholy mess re tuition fees just as they did with academies.  Labour sewed the seeds - theplant grew rampant after 2010.

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