Previewing their Wonkfest session, Ben Verinder and Sue Wolstenholme look closely at how a different approach to reputation management might solve the higher education’s PR problem.
Building on new research from Claire Callender and Paul Temple, Jim Dickinson sets his sights on higher education’s autonomy and a redrawing of the compact that has enabled a failed market.
Following a review of universities’ terms and conditions, Which? is calling on the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to examine evidence that suggests students are being left open to unfair changes to courses, and that some providers are failing to ensure that their terms are complying with the law.
The Consumer Rights Bill currently working its way around the Houses of Parliament promises to give the sector one of the biggest shake-ups it has had in recent years. Yet with universities remaining oddly quiet about this potentially landmark piece of legislation, quieter still is the debate about what this Bill means for students’ place in the academy and the ongoing ‘consumer’ versus ‘partner’ debates that have raged for years – not least on Wonkhe. With fresh legislation now looming, Jim Dickinson takes a look at its implications and considers the power of the promises that universities make to students.
With the arrival of the Competition and Markets Authority to the higher education sector, debates about consumerism, regulation and the role of students and their institutions have intensified. In this piece, Jim Dickinson looks at power and the balance set between students, academics and institutions. Jim asks if this question of power is being left out of the debate and offers a different way to look at the work of the CMA and the debates around their intervention.
Last night The Guardian kicked off a major new investigation in to how some private HE colleges are abusing student loans. These revelations, along with those that are planned to follow it over the coming days, are damaging to the whole sector. With the Queens Speech just days away, the Government has one final chance to provide the legal underpinning to allow respectable institutions to thrive, and crack down on those that are exploiting the system.
Behind the army of wonkery that this blog serves is a body of academic understanding about policy and political goals that helps us understand and influence those around us. Some the academics involved would have us believe that there are only really four policy goals that get invoked, invariably coming at us in multiple disguises – equality, security, liberty, and efficiency. All of them are undeniably desirable until we consider them from multiple angles, or worse still, set one up against another. Jim Dickinson attempts to slay some sacred cows.
Jim Dickinson takes a look at the all-too predictable debate about students as customers, lofty ideals of co-production, partnership and collaboration in the post-A level results lull. Does this debate present a false dichotomy, forcing a choice between concepts that make little sense? And in this context, what future is there for student as ‘citizen’?
I carry with me at all times a 2009 report for Universities UK prepared by the legal firm Eversheds. Why? On page 7 of ‘Developing future university structures’, you will find a diagram entitled ‘A model for university buyouts’. I suggest you look at that diagram and then read the stories about London Metropolitan University’s intentions to ‘outsource’ all staff besides teaching staff and vice-chancellor. What they are doing is something new; they aim to create a vehicle to run universities across the UK.
Higher education is full of contradiction. Contradiction conjures up images of uncertainty. And that makes me hopeful for the future.
Universities thrive on exploration and multiple perspectives. Every institution is rife with healthy argument. The pursuit of learning often conflicts with the pursuit of a better career. In short, one person’s potion is another’s poison.
No single purpose for HE can be defined. Yet this is precisely why I am optimistic. Far from a lack of purpose, we should celebrate an abundance of purposes.
One of the odder beliefs that our culture seems to have developed about markets is the idea of market efficiency. Specifically, the idea that – given the publicly available information presented at the time of action – the actions of any given player in a market are unable to offer greater efficiency than the average of the actions of all players within that market. Or, to stick this in non-economist language, if everyone has access to the same info then no-one has an advantage.
This morning David Willetts took the airwaves to float the idea of ‘off-quota’ places at university. Not a new idea by any means, but an interesting indication of the direction of travel for the HE White Paper which most now expect in the first half of June. On the one hand, there is a sound political argument for leaking out policy initiatives in this way; it can have the effect of softening up the ground for when the big one drops later on.
But David Willetts has underestimated the toxicity of a policy like this which touches a very raw nerve indeed. Still wounded by the fees and funding settlement, this policy will feel like a kick in the teeth to those still clinging on to the idea that access to HE should never depend on the ability to pay. The ‘free at the point of use’ principle, still hanging on by its finger-nails, ensured that there was always going to be the greatest strength of feeling against the deep cuts to the teaching grant. The ensuing high fees for many felt like the sad, but necessary consequence of this – softened by continued commitment not to charge up-front fees.
So, the hints coming out of the HEFCE annual conference regarding university funding were, firstly, the imminent appearance of the much delayed White Paper, and, secondly, further tweaks to the Willetts-Browne funding model to avoid the now universal embarrassment that this model costs substantially more than the current one.
What we seem to be blindly heading towards is something called a core/margin model, and that I’m going to call MarginCore. This should come as no surprise to readers of my blog, as we called it back in December. We also said it wouldn’t be a very good idea.
London Metropolitan’s recent announcement about their expected pricing structure predictably garnered headlines due to their decision to charge significantly less than 9k for all but a handful of courses. But the bigger news is that they have chosen to charge a range of fees, dependent on subject.
The average fee will rest somewhere between £6k and £7k, though vice-chancellor, Malcolm Gillies suggests that the price range will be big, with some courses much cheaper and others possibly charging the full £9k.
One of conservative libertarianism’s greatest minds, Milton Friedman, would be aghast that Davies has resigned because of what is essentially an issue of Corporate Social Responsibility. If you consider that the reduction in funding towards the sector means that further private channels of income will be required, one could argue that Friedman would believe LSE were correct in their decision to accept the Libya donation. He would argue that Sir Davies did what was necessary for the survival of the university in the market system and this should not be affected by public opinion. On those terms, LSE should be celebrated for accepting the donation as they are putting survival and profitable efficiency above public affairs; as any efficiently run company should.