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Monday, October 13, 2014

Have England's universities been privatised by stealth?

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Julian Coman reports, "Buoyed by increased tuition fees, England’s universities are embarking on a massive programme of expansion as they actively compete for students. But it’s only likely to increase the divide between the elite institutions and the rest."

In a recent study by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education — a body dedicated to “safeguarding standards” in universities – researchers asked student volunteers to produce a “concept map”, jotting down related concerns, anxieties and aspirations. The result was an illuminating chart of the worries that keep undergraduates awake at night.

Students at Oxford University celebrate completing their exams in 1976. Today’s undergraduates tend to live more austere lives. Photograph: Ian Tyas/Getty Images

The list drawn up by one female first-year chemistry student revealed the multiple fears of a teenager living independently for the first time. “How to cook?! Thought i’d be living off soup…Will there be people able to help if something goes wrong?… Making Friends! Thought I wouldn’t like anybody… Going Out – when is TOO much.” When it came to her course though, one issue stood out above the rest: “Is it worth £9,000?”

For parents and sixth-formers scrutinising university league tables this autumn, assessing options for 2015, this has become the £44,000 question – that sum being the total amount the average student will now owe on graduation. Students have come a long way from the days when their debt-free predecessors grew their hair long, wore flares and read Marx in sunlit quads.

This term, for the first time since the cap on tuition fees was tripled from £3,000 to £9,000 in 2012, almost all undergraduates will be paying top whack. They must start repaying with interest the loans that paid for those fees, among the highest in the world, when they begin to earn £21,000 or more.

It is not only the budding philosophers, physicists and linguists who are feeling anxious about cash. Four years into the market experiment launched by former universities minister David Willetts, the collective mindset on the university campuses of England has been transformed. In the long history of Britain’s venerable centres of learning, never has so much time and attention been spent on the pursuit of filthy lucre.

Source: The Guardian

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