Higher education has evolved substantially over time. Following successive political and socio-economic changes, the higher education sector is now a high demand market. To cash in on this, many new institutes emerged across the UK, particularly in cities such as London.
In 2011, after implementation of Lord Browne’s recommendations to raise tuition fees up to a maximum tariff of £9,000 per annum, university applications for the first time in over a decade dropped by 12%.
This was expected for the introductory year of new fees, in similar fashion to what happened in 1998 when tuition fees were first enforced, with the succeeding years picking up and reaching unseen new highs.
However this bounce back has not occurred yet, with UCAS data showing applications have alarmingly dropped again by 8.7% for the academic year 2012-13.
Furthermore, certain establishments such as London Metropolitan University, with a 43% drop in applications, have been dealt such a body blow that senior academics claim if applications drop for one or two more years, which is likely, they and similar universities will go bankrupt.
Suddenly in such a small amount of time, the higher education sector has changed into a fierce battle of survival of the fittest.
This is not surprising. Whilst I agree a university defaulting could be disastrous for the local area economically, this is not the case in cities such as London which has over 42 higher education providers. Many of these have been founded within the last decade and set up as businesses with salaries typically higher than private sector CEOs.
Moreover, universities were told by the Universities Minister, David Willets, that charging £9,000 for Home/EU students was only for “exceptional circumstances” and £6,000 should be sufficient for many, especially new institutes with less research activity. Yet several didn’t listen and decided to charge £9,000 because “they could”.
There are countless universities up and down the country offering genuine value for £9,000, whilst a toxic minority feature very poor graduate employment, facilities, and lacklustre teaching yet demand the maximum tariff fee of £9,000. As Professor David Green, vice-chancellor of Worcester University says, many of these institutes hiking fees sky high add very little to the UK and feed off vulnerable students.
With more and more school leavers and mature students questioning the so-called graduate premium of some universities, it is clear many don’t think it exists, with several taking alternative paths such as advanced apprenticeships.
Once the momentum of this gathers, those not offering value for money will suffer the same fate as HMV, Comet and Blockbuster, thus being knocked out of the sector altogether.
I, like many, want people to gain the skills for them to reach their potential whilst making the United Kingdom a continued world leader in innovation. Nonetheless, no university has the right to operate on the basis of people who will pay just for a piece of paper by an accredited institute.
Exploiting students is wrong and I hope to see competition between universities based more on merit, giving students real power in asking what am we are getting for our money, or simply taking our custom elsewhere.