James Moore: Fun with fees and funding at universities

Outlook: This might provide an incentive to people who wondering whether the expense is worthwhile – particularly if they come from poorer backgrounds
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The Independent Online

Much ado in recent days about the universities, funding cuts and fees. The debate that this has sparked has, however, had little input from the business community.

Perhaps that is because it doesn't really care about whether you have two-year degrees costing £10,000 or three-year degrees costing £15,000, as long as what emerges in caps and gowns meets its requirements.

But if you listen to employers, the answer to that question is no, they're all terrible. Businesses are perpetually whinging about the poor quality of graduates – they've been banging on about it for years. The complaint is one that can probably be filed in the drawer marked: "moans, general, likely to continue whatever we do".

However, where they may have a point is over the type of graduates that are being produced.

It remains a fact that it is significantly easier to get into a good university if you want to study for, say, a degree in Engineering than it is if you prefer say English, or History.

If fees are going to rise, there is arguably a case for making sure that any such rise is less in disciplines in which there are shortages and in which the country has a demonstrable need for qualified people.

This sort of measure won't persuade people with a hankering to spend three years buried in great books to start boning on quantum dynamics and the relative tensile strength of steel. But it might provide an incentive to people who wondering whether the expense is worthwhile – particularly if they come from poorer backgrounds.

And if industry wants graduates in particular fields, Mandy could always suggest that they help meet the cost of cheaper fees through, say, matching funding perhaps?

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