Don’t marketise university, please.

Marketisation of university education will have significant consequences for all, as Emily Fishman explains.

Cambridge fees green paper tuition fees university

The latest green paper on social mobility, published in November 2015, claims to place ‘students at its heart’. It plans to give students a fairer choice over university education. But in reality, it’s narrowing our choices, basing them on a rated system of tuition fees. 

When the government published the new Green paper on social mobility, I was hopeful. It begins in a positive light, with promises to raise ‘teaching standards’, ‘graduate employability’ and perhaps most importantly ‘value for students’. All of this sounds great. Almost too great.

The report aimed to place ‘students at its heart’. It doesn’t.

Shame the heart looks like this...

Shame the heart looks like this…

The continued mention of ‘productivity’ was enough to cast doubt over the government’s real intentions. Does Cameron care about the education of the country’s students, or are they more fussed about the economic value of higher education?

Life skills and the benefits of being academically challenged don’t crop up in the report. Nothing is mentioned about the benefits of learning to work independently, manage your time, and cope with intense academic pressure. Learning to scramble eggs and pay bills won’t necessarily boost the nation’s productivity, but they’re life skills we all need to have. The report fails to truly understand or recognise the importance of higher education from a ‘student’ perspective. Learning is a personalised and individual activity that remains impossible to put a price on.

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Learning the fundamentals

Worse, the report contradicts itself. It stresses the importance of social mobility, but its strategies for targeting social mobility are defunct. Hints at raising tuition fees based on subject and university is something which will damage current progress in terms of social mobility. TES, a system to assess and grade universities by their teaching, resources and research will determine the value of future tuition fees. In short, the Tories are creating a ‘market economy’ for higher education.

I hear about medics dissecting humans, vets experimenting on animals, and chemical engineers studying reactions. As a historian, I library all day to read. On this basis, it may seem unfair that some students receive ‘more’ for their £9000 annual fees. Yet ultimately, the learning process remains the same. Just because some courses require more resources, doesn’t mean they should cost more. Clearly, if fees vary from course to course, student’s will start taking this into account when choosing what to study at university. What then, for the disadvantaged student, aspiring to be a doctor but choosing classics based on the lower tuition fees? Social mobility doesn’t come into play here.

The report is paradoxical, working against its own aims. It commits to social mobility, yet edges closer to a tiered system of tuition fees, coaxing the less affluent away from the more expensive courses.

Education isn’t something we should attach a monetary value to. Money shouldn’t be a barrier to reaching your undergraduate ambitions. Merit, hard work and a passion for your subject should determine your university and course, rather than your household income.