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

  • News Are the Tories more likely to protect hedge funds than the NHS?

    Are the Tories more likely to protect hedge funds than the NHS?

    Well, yes – according to the people of Birmingham. It’s been reported that in his speech tomorrow David Cameron will attempt to claw back some legitimacy for the Tories when it comes to the NHS. But, it looks like Cameron’s latest policy announcement (where he’ll promise that by 2020 everyone in England will be able to access a GP every day of the week) will do little to undo the public’s belief that the Tories can’t be trusted with the […]

    Read more →
  • News Video The moment Boris Johnson brandished a brick during his Conference speech

    The moment Boris Johnson brandished a brick during his Conference speech

    The Mayor of London has a reputation for eccentricity: whether it’s getting stuck on a zipwire, or conspiring to get journalists beaten up, or his aspirations to be prime minister, his odd character traits are well known. His latest stunt will likely stick in the mind, as he produced an actual brick from under the lectern mid-way through his speech to the main hall of the Conservatives’ Conference. He then waved the brick about, and proceeded to talk about in a style […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Ed’s interview with the British people

    Ed’s interview with the British people

    “Hi, come on in. Sorry to keep you waiting but we’ve had quite a few of these interviews to get through…It’s Ed, isn’t it? Let me introduce everyone – we’re the British people. I understand you’ve met quite a few of us already. Do you have a copy of your CV to hand?…No, that’s fine, everyone forgets things. I think we have one here…yes, that’s all very impressive. What about in your spare time? It says here you like walks […]

    Read more →
  • News “He’s blown it”: Tory MPs slam “painful” Osborne speech

    “He’s blown it”: Tory MPs slam “painful” Osborne speech

    Backbench Tory MPs are privately despairing at George Osborne’s speech to Tory Conference yesterday. The Chancellor’s announcement that he plans to freeze all benefits for working-age people, amounting to a real-terms cut, has dismayed Conservative’s who are concerned with their party’s image among the working class. According to today’s Times (£), Tory MPs are unhappy that in-work benefits will be hit as hard as jobseeker’s allowance, sending out a message that it doesn’t pay to work. The Times reports: A Tory […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Ukip have no plan for the future

    Ukip have no plan for the future

    Lunchtime yesterday, eleven days on from the Scottish referendum, I found myself back on a street corner talking politics. And although the break-up of the UK wasn’t on people’s lips, some of the issues in the centre of Middleton were the same. A frustration about politics, worries about public services and a sense that in hard times people want a sense of a fairer, more prosperous future. I was in Heywood and Middleton to support Labour’s parliamentary candidate Liz McInnes. […]

    Read more →
7ads6x98y