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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Cutting time at university won’t cut inequality | Cherwell Online - Comment

Proposed plans to shrink university courses to two years ignores the true value of higher education, writes Lydia Higman, Cherwell.

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The claim that universities are bastions of privilege is virtually axiomatic. Systemic inequality within the education system culminates to reflect a demographical and financial imbalance within universities. The most controversial aspect being the shift in the burden of pay from the state to the student.

As it stands, university tuition fees are at £9,500 per year with a 4.6% interest rate, deterring less-privileged prospective students from applying. This is a perversion of the principles of the right to education. Indeed, it was the miscalculation of the impact of tuition fees that so famously buried the Liberal Democrats in the coalition.

The consensus on the need for change (or reaction to the pressure for change) is broadly shared, hence Theresa May abandoned the planned £250 increase in fees for 2018-19. Similarly, in July this year, Damian Green stated that student debt in its current form is a “huge issue”. Acknowledging the flaws in the university system is a non-partisan apprehension. But Universities minister Jo Johnson’s most recent ‘solution’ to the problem of astronomical student debt, to reduce university courses to two years, is short-sighted and lacks a clear rationale.

His proposal to amend the Higher Education and Research Bill would allow for more ‘flexible learning’ and offer a higher annual fee limit for accelerated courses, subject to Parliamentary approval. For Johnson, an overwhelming majority of courses could be done in two years, especially with the development of the internet which has had a transformative impact on teaching methods.

An efficiency drive of this nature relates to a key assumption about academia: that the humanities don’t offer as much in terms of skill set as other more vocational degrees. For Simon Jenkins, newspaper columnist for The Guardian and past editor of The Times, the humanities are content with the valuation of education as an inherent good. Jenkins neglects to mention that the humanities will arm an individual with the ability to conduct a critical investigation, such as this one.

It is a valid statement that engineering will literally give a student a more tangible skill set. But valuing engineering above philosophy is characteristic of a paradigmatic view towards education that is driven by economic output and productivity. This is precisely the indictment that Stefan Collini makes in Speaking of Universities. For Collini, the systemisation of funding and governance has forced universities to engage more in market behaviour and entrepreneurialism. The imposition of these values from policy-makers has detracted from the value of universities as centres of learning. 
This detraction takes a very literal form in Johnson’s proposal to cut the three-year course.

Source: Cherwell Online

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