A disaster for students and universities alike

December 13, 2012 10:34 am

This week marks the two year anniversary of the vote in Parliament on the Tory-led government’s unnecessary and unfair decision to treble tuition fees for students to £9,000. And today UCAS published its regular ‘end of cycle’ statistics which show us the shape of student application, acceptance and entry to higher education of those starting courses this academic year – the first in which students can be charged the maximum £9,000 fee.

While there is more work to be done to fully understand how students’ and universities’ behaviour is adapting to the new system, the numbers are revealing: This year saw a fall of 54,000 students going to university compared to last year – an 11% drop. Even taking into account shifting demographics and issues with comparing different cohorts, this is a substantial reduction and exposes the deep uncertainty and disruption caused by the government’s chaotic approach to higher education.

And however you read the figures, it is clear that the consistent trend established under the last Labour government of a steady rise in people of all ages going to higher education has been stopped in its tracks.

With falling numbers attending university, how can the UK remain competitive and continue to punch above its weight across the globe with a highly skilled and educated workforce?

The Tory-led government has also ignored mature and part time learners – once considered niche cohorts but who now make up significant swathes of the student population. Too often policies have ended up being too narrowly focused on 18 year old full time students, and there was not enough consideration of the impact trebling fees would have on mature students. As a result, we have seen entries from every age group above 18 decline significantly this year. This is a cause for tremendous concern, impacting on the long-term health of our adult skills base which higher education plays a critical role in developing.

Figures for part time students don’t appear in the UCAS data but Vice Chancellors from across the sector have told me that they have seen a dramatic decline in part time students applying to their institutions. Part time provision plays an important role in raising participation, providing a flexible route in to higher education.

The numbers released this week also reveal how the chaotic and misjudged number control policies have failed, increasing uncertainty and taking out places at popular universities and auctioning them off on the basis of price, not quality. And the UCAS data this week shows the number of AAB students actually fell despite all restrictions being lifted on their recruitment by ministers, and their claims that this policy would provide high achieving students more opportunity to access higher education.

By any objective analysis, two years on we are left with the worst of all worlds as a result of the government’s higher education policies. Ministers betrayed students by trebling fees to £9,000, they created uncertainty for universities by slashing their funding and introducing the now discredited number control policies, and to add insult to injury, the Home Office’s actions now risk deterring legitimate international students to the UK which will harm the sector significantly, and which could cause real and lasting damage to the economy – we mustn’t forget that higher education is the UK’s seventh largest export.

The last two years of Tory-led Government have been a disaster for students and universities alike. I challenge them to tell us all how they plan make the next two an improvement on their poor record so far.

Shabana Mahmood MP is Shadow Minister for Higher Education

  • JoeDM

    It was, of course, Labour who first introduced fees & loans for students.

    • MonkeyBot5000

      And as many said at the time; if you introduce fees, they will inevitably rise and it will hit the poor hardest.

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    So what’s the Labour alternative then? ………

    Labour had no ideological issues with shifting the cost of HE from state to student, the Tories have just gone further and faster than Labour. Would Labour shift the balance back toward state funding? Even if it meant less funding for early years provision or EMA or any of the other schemes?

    • robertcp

      My suggestion would be to replace the current fees with a graduate tax, which students would pay after they graduate. This is effectively the system that we have now, because many people will not pay back all of their fees. Increasing grants would also help.

      To be honest, I am not sure if 54,000 fewer students is a disaster for them, universities or the economy if they go into employment or training instead.

  • Hugh

    “With falling numbers attending university, how can the UK remain
    competitive and continue to punch above its weight across the globe with
    a highly skilled and educated workforce?”

    Any chance you could provide us with the research showing the rise in university students had led us to become more competitive from 1997 to 2010?

    • robertcp

      I agree Hugh. I am not sure if my History degree made the UK more competitive.

  • Dave Postles

    ‘ they created uncertainty for universities’
    No, it’s what the VCs of the Russell Group and the 94 Group wished for – as they requested from the Browne Commission. The leadership of the universities has been supine. Willetts will further undermine them by sanctioning private institutions of HE. He has already allowed £100m for support for undergraduates at these private institutions. He has reduced the criterion of the number of undergraduates for approved status. The VCs took the sugar and now they must take the pill. It’s too late.

  • robertcp

    Training skilled workers will probably be better for the UK economy than educating History graduates like me.

Latest

  • Comment It shouldn’t cost so much to be a candidate

    It shouldn’t cost so much to be a candidate

    I love the Labour party. I enjoy canvassing, I pay my subs, go to the various fundraising dinners and vote in National Executive Committee (NEC) elections. I, like many, hate the constant barrage of ‘please donate’ emails and fear the dreaded fundraising call. And if I feel like that, imagine the dread felt by a candidate when they receive such a call. Don’t believe that happens? Hard to believe as it is, on more than one occasion now I have […]

    Read more →
  • News Jim Murphy resumes “100 streets” referendum tour after nationalist abuse

    Jim Murphy resumes “100 streets” referendum tour after nationalist abuse

    Jim Murphy is resuming his soapbox street meetings tour of Scotland tomorrow, after suspending it last week in the face of increasing co-ordinated abuse by supporters of independence. These protests at Murphy’s open-air meetings came to the attention of the media (and the police) when the Shadow Defence Secretary was hit with eggs last week. In a blog for the Spectator this weekend, Murphy explains how the organised groups go beyond the “normal cut and thrust” of politics that the meetings […]

    Read more →
  • News 16-24 year olds more likely to vote Labour, poll finds

    16-24 year olds more likely to vote Labour, poll finds

    A voting attitudes poll has found that young people, between the ages of 16-24, are more likely to vote Labour in the next general election. The poll, carried out by Survation between 21st-26th August for Sky News, saw 1,003 young people asked about their attitudes towards politics and their voting intentions in the next general election. Of those who said they would be voting, 35% said that they would vote Labour, while only 12% opted for the Conservatives and a mere […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Scotland When it comes to the referendum, let’s remember “in unity is strength”

    When it comes to the referendum, let’s remember “in unity is strength”

    In the coming days UK Labour leader Ed Miliband will be here in Scotland – making the case for shared solidarity across these islands.He’ll arrive in the wake of a difficult summer for David Cameron and a growing sense that we can secure a Labour Government in next May’s general election.This view that Labour can win in 9 months time finds no place in the Nationalists’ narrative. They had hoped to be able to tell voters that Tory victory was […]

    Read more →
  • News Miliband: I want my Cabinet to have 50% women

    Miliband: I want my Cabinet to have 50% women

    Ed Miliband has reaffirmed his commitment to ensuring his Cabinet would have 50% women – although stopped short of making it a promise, saying he wants to “let my actions speak for themselves”. In an interview with woman’s magazine Red, Miliband said he’s proud that women’s representation in the Shadow Cabinet has improved since he became leader, and that he would like to see women make up half of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP): What has changed under his leadership […]

    Read more →