University privatisation plan outrage

Thousands marched for free education through central London – students are determined to drive the market out of education
Thousands marched for free education through central London – students are determined to drive the market out of education

STUDENTS will be ‘outraged’ at Tory proposals to raise tuition fees even higher and privatise education, the NUS said yesterday.

Tory Universities Minister Jo Johnson announced the proposals which have been put forward in a White Paper published yesterday. The White Paper proposes that universities will be able to increase their tuition fees beyond the current £9,000 a year, from autumn 2017.

The plans also make it easier for new private universities to open. The White Paper called ‘Success as a Knowledge Economy’ will also allow more private institutions to be given ‘university status’.

Sorana Vieru, NUS vice president (higher education), said: ‘We have consistently seen dramatic cuts to support for the most disadvantaged students, with the abolition of maintenance grants in universities only this year. Students will understandably be outraged at any suggestion universities could be allowed to put fees up even higher in order to improve teaching quality.’

Sally Hunt, leader of the UCU lecturers’ union, said: ‘Despite repeated warnings from UCU about the danger of opening up UK higher education to private, for-profit providers, the government is setting out on a clear course to privatise higher education.

‘We have already seen too many scandals involving alternative providers in the UK and the USA, so if we are to protect the global reputation enjoyed by our universities, lessons must be learnt and rigorous quality measures applied before any new provider is allowed to access either degree awarding powers or state funding.

‘Everyone knows the importance of teaching, but it is hard to see how many of the measures which have been proposed for the teaching excellence framework (TEF) will either measure quality or improve it.

‘UCU believes a critical weakness of our current system is the precarious employment of university teachers, 49% of whom are on insecure contracts. The best way to raise teaching quality is to ensure that academic careers in the UK are attractive to the brightest talent at home and abroad, but this needs an investment in the workforce that has been lacking for many years.

‘We remain deeply concerned by any proposed link between quality as defined in the TEF and additional income, and will oppose any move to further increase the lifetime cost of higher education, which already sits at over £50,000 for the poorest undergraduates.

‘On access, while increased reporting requirements on universities are to be welcomed, the government must do more to address the persistent barriers to higher education for those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

‘We need tougher action on universities who are missing access targets, better support for part-time and mature study, and a national inquiry on our broken admissions system to ensure fair access for all.’