Is the UK’s New Tuition Model Distorting Higher Education?

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Whether you want to call it a ‘revolution’ or a ‘social experiment,’ major changes are taking place across campuses in the England – and many say not for the better.

Universities are adopting a “culture of rack ‘em, pack ‘em and stack ‘em” in an attempt to drive funding.  Students are getting packed into lectured halls and professors are being encouraged to inflate grades, reports Graeme Paton for the Telegraph.

The increase in the number of top degrees awarded has been said to aid universities in climbing the league tables which give credit to institutions that produce more graduates with firsts and upper-second degrees.

Many professors agree that the admission standards are slipping and students are leaving without improving their position much.

While quality is sliding, tuition is rising.  In an attempt to make higher education in England more sustainable, the government has made major reforms to undergraduate education funding in 2012-13.

The goal of the government was to reduce public expenditure on higher education in order to help reduce the fiscal deficit and create a ‘quasi-market’ in higher educations, writes Claire Callender for University World News.

The ideologically-inspired vision is of a higher education sector defined by the market, driven by provider competition and student choice, which the government claims will deliver high-quality services efficiently and equitably.

In addition, the reforms are rooted firmly in the belief that students reap enormous private benefits from higher education, especially higher wages, and they should pay towards its costs.

The reform can be broken down into three parts. First the government stopped giving a majority of the money to universities for teaching. Second, in order to cover those teaching costs a cap was set on undergraduate tuition fees at 9,000 GBP per year up from 3,290 GBP. Third, students received government-funded loans that they are expected to pay back after graduation.

With this new model, no students means no income, so universities have upgraded campuses and are even utilizing promotions like giving away free iPads to boost attendance, reports Julian Coman for The Guardian.

Attendance is in fact rising at universities, despite the rising cost of attending university. Many students see it as a necessary step in order to get hired at a decent job. Students no longer see higher education as an academic adventure but instead as a means to an end.

“The signs are that an emphasis on fees and the rhetoric of choice will actually restrict diversity of provision, as a shift from non-vocational to vocational courses takes place. Students think in terms of the job possibilities that come after. As the numbers change, institutions will cut back on subjects that require cross-subsidising, and the spectrum of options will shrink. It’s too early to have robust statistics, but it already seems that modern languages and the humanities are suffering.”

Despite the fact that humanities courses would seem to be suffering due to these reforms, there is a movement to offer more liberal arts curricula in the UK.

The challenges and benefit of liberal arts education were discussed at a one-day symposium at King’s College London. Participants largely agreed that there is a want and need for a humanities based education because students like the model of “learning something about everything and everything about something.”