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Mar 13 2015

How the General Election could impact upon higher education

ID-10081728With the General Election only a couple of months away we thought it would be topical to look at what’s being said about its impact upon higher education.

One of the key election messages is about funding and student fees. Labour’s pledge last month to reduce student fees to £6000 has been subject to lively debate and we have included two links to articles in this newsletter below about concerns of how such a move may negatively impact universities outside of England as well as become a barrier for those students from more disadvantaged economic backgrounds. Labour’s argument is summed up here in their blog and the five points they discuss are:

  • Raising tuition fees to £9000 has been bad for students and bad for tax payers.
  • Labour’s plan will be fairer to students and tax payers.
  • Students who are currently in their first year at university will benefit from Labour’s plan.
  • Universities will not lose out
  • Labour’s plan is fully funded by restricting Pension Tax Relief for those on the highest incomes.

Some argue that student fees could swing the election outcome. In this article in the Guardian they cite what they believe to be the 10 most influential universities in terms of student votes because they live in closely-fought marginal seats. These are:

  1. University of Warwick
  2. Cardiff University
  3. University of East Anglia
  4. University of Edinburgh
  5. Lancaster University
  6. University of Wolverhampton
  7. University of Cumbria
  8. University of Sussex
  9. University of Bristol
  10. University of Sheffield

Others feel the focus on student fees is short-term and populist and instead politicians should be focusing on long-term investment which securs the UK as one of the best higher education providers globally. As in any organisation Higher Education Institutions need funding to attract and retain top talent in terms of teaching and research. An article by the Huffington Post quotes:

‘But experts reckon a sizeable tuition fee reduction like that (referring to Labour’s proposed £6000 fee cap) would also create a £10bn black hole in university funding. Learning institutions need that money in order to tract top researchers and stay competitive. So, if the UK government doesn’t pick up that tab, we’re going to witness a crippling talent exodus.”

Is part of the problem that politicians don’t agree with universities on what the priorities are? Universities UK report on research which asked current and future MPs what they thought to be the most important issues facing higher education. The findings were:

“From the responses, it was clear that it is the external facing work of universities: their contribution to the economy, to innovation, and to producing the highly skilled workforce of the future, matters most.”

Not surprising maybe but what was surprising is that only 14% of MPS and 16% of future MPS were interested in the teaching and learning provided to 2.5 million students annually.

The recent election hustings organised by the Times Higher Education and others indicated that politicians are using higher education policies  to attract votes and the questions covered other aspects such as international students and research .  We have included the video of the whole event so you can see how each party approaches the sector.

Image Credit:Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee freedigitalphotos.net

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