Terence Kealey: Leave our funding alone, Lord Browne - Higher - Education - The Independent

Terence Kealey: Leave our funding alone, Lord Browne

It's not students who should be taking to the streets over higher education finance – it's vice-chancellors, argues Terence Kealey

How odd that it was the good bits of Lord Browne's report that provoked the riots. The students have no legitimate grievance. It is the vice-chancellors who are in trouble. They are the ones who should have taken to the streets.

Someone has to pay for higher education. The burden could fall either on the taxpayer or on the graduate. Students want the taxpayer to bear the burden because – rationally – they want others to subsidise them. Students understand that, on graduation, most of them will join the middle classes. And they also understand that a disproportionate share of taxes is paid by the poor (indirect taxes are heavy and socially regressive) and by the rich (who, being rich, pay lots in direct taxes, which is why Whitehall loves bankers' bonuses).

So students will naturally want to shift the costs of higher education onto the other two classes of society.

But the Coalition Government believes that, because the prime beneficiaries of higher education are the graduates, they themselves should pay for it in fees (deferred, income-dependent, time-limited fees). The Coalition's critics – labelling the working classes as preternaturally debt-averse – invoke the spectre of social injustice, but the provisions in Browne's report relating to the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), and the continued rise in working-class participation since the advent of top-up fees, address that issue.

For vice-chancellors, however, Browne – and the Coalition's response to it – are worrying.

Fees will still be capped (at around £7,000 pa), so once £3bn has been cut from the Government's budgets, the older universities may not enjoy an increase in income (see the Oxford vice-chancellor's letter on his university website). Meanwhile, the vice-chancellors of the newer universities worry that potential students will question their value for money. So, Professor Les Ebdon of million+, the new universities' association, said that a market in fees would "damage participation".

Yet the real anxiety for vice-chancellors comes towards the end of Browne's report, where he proposes a comprehensive restructuring of the government agencies of higher education. There are six agencies on which Browne has designs: the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the Student Loans Company (SLC), the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), the Office of Independent Adjudication (OIA) and the OFFA.

Browne wants to subordinate the SLC to UCAS, which would then act as a one-stop-shop to coordinate both the admission of students to universities and the processing of their loan applications. The justification Browne gives for, effectively, fusing UCAS and the SLC into a new body which he calls Student Finance is that, currently, each body requires students to fill in a separate form.

This is a suspiciously weak justification. If, as Browne claims, students are thus deterred, why does he simply not ask the two bodies to design a joint form? But Browne has a deeper, coercive, plan for Student Finance.

Browne wants to fuse the other four bodies, HEFCE, QAA, OIA and OFFA into one new entity, to be called the Higher Education Council.

Why? Despite losing £3bn from its teaching budget, the HEFCE will retain a vast, multi-billion budget because it will still fund the Research Assessment Exercise (now Research Excellence Framework) as well as the STEM subjects (the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths will remain subsidised), so a standalone HEFCE would remain fully viable.

Nor does Browne justify merging the QAA into his new body. The difficulty with the QAA is that it monitors only processes, not outcomes, so it has failed to address the two fundamental problems of British higher education – namely degree inflation and inadequate contact times of the publicly funded sector. But how would merging the QAA into another body address those failures?

As for the OIA, the HEFCE already stretches every rule of corporate governance by being, under the 2006 Charities Act, the sector's regulator as well as its funder. Yet Browne wants to diminish independent regulation further by folding the OIA into it. Surely Offices of Independent Adjudication should be, er, independent? Like ombudsmen?

It is with OFFA that we finally get an unvarnished insight into Browne's thinking, because he believes that too few working-class children get to university. So he is going to force the universities to scour the inner-city estates for them. How? He proposes doing this by withholding money. It is on page 45 of his report that a dread phrase recurs: " ...a condition for institutions to receive the costs of learning through the Student Finance Plan... It will be a condition of receipt of income from the Student Finance Plan that institutions ..." Browne, in short, wants to use Student Finance to control the universities. He will withhold money, for example, not only over the working classes but also to "... require all new academics with teaching responsibilities to undertake a teaching-training qualification accredited by the HE Academy."

So there we have it. As the market in higher education widens, so Browne wants to toughen its central direction. By restricting access to Student Finance to universities that are endorsed by bureaucrats from the HEFCE, QAA, OIA and OFFA in the new Higher Education Council, Browne will control them.

Markets should be regulated, yet the current regulatory bodies in British higher education do not lack sanctions. They lack respect. Nobody trusts that the QAA, OFFA et alia actually effect positive outcomes, only that they drive their bureaucratic simulacrums.

And inasmuch as the central bureaucracies do effect virtue, it is only because they are themselves subject to scrutiny. Empower them within a Higher Education Council, and they will become monsters.

The writer is vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

PE Teacher (Female)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Teacher of Girls PE for Wiltshire scho...

Head of Science Required

Competitive & Flexible: Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobRandstad Educatio...

KS1 Teacher

£105 - £120 per day + Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone: Randsta...

Primary Supply Teacher's Urgently Required in Hull and Grimsby

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: We are looking for KS1 & KS2...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week