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a 15 percent increase in
the number of British
undergraduates.
Like foreign student
tuition, the tuition paid
by graduate students
is also not regulated
by the government.
Oxford plans to increase
its graduate student
enrollment by two percent
a year, whichmeans
that graduate students
would outnumber
undergraduates there by
2016. University College
London has announced
that it will increase the
proportion of graduate
students from 37 percent
to 50 percent and increase the proportion of students from
outside the EU from 21 percent to 25 percent. Graduate
students already outnumber undergraduates at the London
School of Economics by nearly two to one.
The government’s plan to keep an eye on the economic and
racial diversity of students is called the Office for Fair Access
(OFFA), also known as the regulator. But its role remains vague,
drawing still more criticism. After the vote, it was revealed that
OFFAwould have to share the Bristol headquarters of another
higher education organization and borrow its staff. “My reading
of the situation is that the universities don’t want it to have
power,” said Brinded. “For any regulator to have power, it needs
to have teeth.” And as one parliamentary critic of the regulator
said, OFFA has “fewer teeth than a Glasgow granny.”
Nor canmiddle-income families count on
help fromOFFA, said Slater, the vice chancellor
at Bournemouth, where a third of the students
come from the middle classes. “I don’t think
we’re going to knowwhat that office is going to
do. I can’t see it keeping an eye on the children
of middle England,” she said with an arched
brow. “That’s not fashionable, is it?”
Universities are readying themselves to
compete in an openmarket. Most say they
will likely charge the full $5,520, resisting the
impulse to attract students based on price.
Some say their alumni, regarding it as a
referendumon the value of their degrees, have
pressured them to charge the full amount.
Most schools will compete not on the basis
of price, but by dangling financial aid and other perks before
the most desirable students. One has considered offering free
laptop computers and sports clubmemberships. Others are
taking a more subtle approach. “We do have to compete for
students now, but we regard the fact that our graduates go out
to employment with good salaries as probably the selling point
when they’re assessing the value of what they’re getting for their
investment,” said Slater.
Now fresh concern is arising that the value of university
degrees may not justify the increased cost to students. Political
economists Phillip Brown of CardiffUniversity and Anthony
Hesketh of Lancaster University raised the prospect of a
“graduate glut,” contending that the government, in its drive
to increase university participation, has overestimated the
demand for university-educated workers.
Brown andHesketh reported that starting salaries for
UK university graduates have actually fallen. One newspaper
pointed out with irony that millionaire entrepreneur Richard
Branson and soccer star David Beckhamnever went to
college—and that, in Britain, plumbers earnmore thanmany
university graduates.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service and
the Council for Industry andHigher Education have already
scrambled to publish the first brochure designed to convince
students that a university education is worth the money. Called
“The Value of Higher Education,” it promises its young readers
that going to college will bring personal as well as financial
rewards.That is part of a wider philosophical conversation
provoked by the ongoing transformation of British higher
education.
Behind a black door a few feet down the street from
Brinded’s student union office is Cambridge’s Department of
Anglo Saxon, Norse and Celtic, a program that enrolls just 24
students. “What happens to courses like that?” Brinded asks.
The top-up fees plan “furthers the perception that attending
university is a financial investment. It is for some people, but
not for everyone. A lot of people go to Cambridge and go and
work as bankers in the city. But a lot of people go and work for
charities. Universities have other roles:Theymake societies
more tolerant, more successful. One of the problems with
this bill is it doesn’t recognize that.There’s a debate that has to
happen about the merits of the universities and what they’re
here for, and we haven’t had that debate.”
Callender, too, resents what she calls the “totally utilitarian
approach. Does that mean we should only have departments
that teach knowledge that’s useful? It’s deeply sad if that
happens, if the only thing I’mdoing when I’m sitting here
teaching is preparingmy students for the labor market.”
She is convinced that, after 2010, the $5,520 cap will be
lifted, opening the way for university tuition to go higher
still. “Some universities will go to the wall, and there will be a
more differentiated higher education system along class and
ethnic lines. Elitismwill be reinforced. Both social class and
disadvantage will be reinforced by these divisions between
institutions and between students.” Slater, too, thinks a small
group of universities will begin to charge American-level
tuitions, while “a significant number” of other universities
will be in trouble.The government has gone on notice that
unpopular universities and subjects cannot count on being
bailed out by taxpayers.
What will happen now, saidMP Ian Gibson, is that “the rich
kids will go to the richer universities. It will be like Harvard and
Yale. What it’s going to do is bring in a market—like you have
in the States.”
u
JonMarcus is a writer based in Boston who covers higher
education in the U.S. for the (UK)
Times Higher Education
magazine.
Ben Brinded, president of the Cambridge University
student union, thinks “the universities will still be
underfunded” when the new tuition policy takes effect.
Less than one
percent of the gross
domestic product
goes to higher
education in the
UK, compared to
2.7 percent in the
United States.