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‘It cannot be made any clearer: higher education reforms are a shambles.’

May 27, 2012

Here’s a prediction: this government or the next will have to revisit the question of student fees sooner or later because the new loans regime is a mess.

A report commissioned by the Intergenerational Foundation, entitled False Accounting? Why the Government’s Higher Education Reforms Don’t Add Up, claims that the new student loan system will add between £50bn and £100bn to the UK’s debt over the next 20 years.

Author of the report, Andrew McGettigan, has said: ‘It cannot be made any clearer: higher education reforms are a shambles. Vague savings, more instability, a debt bubble, increasing inflation, increasing benefits for the wrong generation, all point to incompetence at best,  alternatives motives at worst. The coalition must come clean and respond publicly to IF’s findings.’

Meanwhile, the Times Higher Education reports that Andreas Schleicher, special adviser to the OECD secretary general, told a conference in London on 18 May that England may have gone “a bit over the top” in transferring the cost of university education from the state to the graduate.

According to the THE, Dr Schleicher was asked if higher tuition fees would damage prospects for lifelong learning in England, to which he replied that the government, individuals and employers should share the costs, and he went on to say that it was essential to ‘figure out more clearly to whom do benefits accrue’.

In an article for The Work Foundation, Dr Schleicher elaborates:

… we need to deal with the tough question of who should pay for what, when and how, particularly for learning beyond school. Social partners can help in developing curricula that include broader, transferable skills and ensuring that good quality training is available to all. Employers can do a lot more to create and invest in a climate that supports learning. Some individuals can shoulder more of the financial burden. And governments can do a lot to design rigorous standards, provide financial incentives and create a safety net so that all people have access to high quality learning.

This is interesting because if the thorny question of who pays for education should be determined, as Dr Schleicher suggests, by figuring out who benefits, then it is clear that the student is not the only beneficiary. Employers do well out of an educated work force also, and it is in recognition of this that Dr Schleicher points out that they ‘can do a lot more to create and invest in a climate that supports learning’.

But I wonder does that investment go as far as putting actual money into education and stepping into the financial hole left by the government? There are dubious business interests already taking an interest in education and business leaders are never behind the door when it comes to doling out sage advice to educators. But what would education look like and what would be its prospects if, for instance, university degrees were effectively sponsored by business? Actually, some already are. The hour of the the degree in flatpack technologies may be upon us.

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