...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Day 3572: Browne'd Orff


It's been a BAD day, really.

First the Browne Report is published saying: "tuition fees are unfair… let's double/triple/quadruple them!"

Then Mr Dr Vince comes to the despatch box putting a brave face on it, saying we're making the best of a bad job.

The Coalition Agreement, chapter 31, says:
"If the response of the Government to Lord Browne's report is one that Liberal Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote."
But really ANY response short of an enormous RASPBERRY deserves a fluffy sight more than just abstaining.

We didn't pledge to "make the best of a bad job", did we?

We didn't pledge to "put a brave face on it".

No, we said saddling young people with tens of thousands of pounds of debt at the start of their career was FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG.

So now we're signing up to saddling them with twenties and thirties of thousands of pounds of debt?

Look, I'm not really sure how it CAN cost twelve grand a year to teach a student. Let me run a little maths past you.

Say you give a weekly tutorial for about an hour for three maybe four students. Maybe an hour's prep time, and another hour for marking. Throw in a couple of lectures, and an hour each to prep those and that's a day's work. So you've made what, thirty-six or forty-eight grand a year for one day a week of work.

Even at just three grand a head in fees you can pull in the same sort of money by having sixteen students and you STILL get Fridays off.

Yes I REALISE that your academics want to spend their time doing their own research rather than education their replacements, but it does SEEM like this teaching lark covers itself.

And yes, I REALISE that there are support staff to pay, librarians and lab techs, cleaners and caretakers, and that there are libraries full of books and papers and laboratories full of chemicals and cadavers to stock, but even so…

There are two million students in Great Britain, that's SIX BILLION quid in top up fees – even at the current capped rate! – or forty million pounds each for each of our Universities. You really SHOULD be able to pay for a staff of a thousand on that sort of money, and that's a student to staff ratio of 13:1 which is rather better than most schools manage.

Yes, I realise it costs ten thousand pounds a term to go to ETON, but you do get your bed and board and an unlimited supply of crumpets thrown in.

What AM I missing?

Some people say "why shouldn't the next generation pay for the cost of their own education – after all they'll benefit from it". But who paid the cost for the CURRENT generation? And by what right does the current generation pass off its responsibilities to the next. One of the reasons we say we MUST pay down the deficit – and I agree with this – is that it is WRONG to saddle our kids with enormous debts. And yet what is it that we are doing here?

And the very WORST of this is putting a "market price" on excellence, with no limit to the fees so that the "best" Universities can trade on their reputation to increase their income in a self-perpetuating spiral of exclusion.

Academia isn't for everyone, and we should do MORE to create alternative opportunities for other people, but if you are bright enough to go to University then you should go, and your background, low high OR middle, should NOT be a bar.

A university education ought to be a GOOD THING in and of itself, taking you away from home, meeting new people from all different backgrounds, broadening your horizons, teaching you new ways to THINK.

WE need to find new ways to think too if we are to solve the problem of funding our future. Hard Labour only saw Universities for the money people got out of going there. We have to abandon that line of thought and start again. We need a better answer.


JohnM said...

we can handle this as either a battle lost on clear principles of the value we set on education (the party of) and thus a down payment on significant electoral progress in 2015 (not to mention next may) and also to wrong-foot Labour. Or to be portrayed as a split party between power crazed ministers and principled back-benchers, whilst the Tories and Labour go scot-free! I wonder if Alastair Campbell wants a job?

Jane said...

I'm not an academic, just married to one. In his last university post in the UK he had 8 hours contact time per week. Each hour actually involves two or three hours preparation, not one. In addition he had marking and a huge burden of administration, including such vital bollocks as filling in the forms to get an Investor in People award, manning the phones for recruitment, because prospective students like to talk to an academic, and designing new courses in the hope that they'd recruit better than the courses he was already teaching.

Meanwhile the university hired more and more admin staff, who did what exactly?

My husband was working an 80 hour week before he started doing any research, which would be vital to remaining in employment, since in the academic world you publish or die.

If the uni he was at was anything to go by, poor administration is wasting oodles of student's money.