Leading article: More must be done to nurture those in higher education

There are lessons to learn from the university drop-out rate

Share
Related Topics

The news we carry today about the crisis at London Metropolitan University will no doubt prompt negative reflections on whether the expansion of higher education to make it more socially inclusive was such a good idea. As we report, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has effectively told the university's governing body to resign following revelations that it has been claiming far more students than it has – as a result of which the university will now have to repay more than £36m.

Large numbers of students have been failing to complete their end-of-year assessments, many of them dropping out, and the university has failed to report this – partly because the HEFCE funds universities on the basis of the number of students they have. It is clearly a complete disgrace if some universities are abusing the system in this way and covering up, or at best failing to report, the drop-out rates in order to balance the books.

But while this kind of wilful mismanagement must be exposed and those behind it penalised, it would be a pity were this to become the occasion for a general assault on the principle of opening up universities to the kinds of people who a generation ago would not have dreamt of attempting to get a degree.

The proliferation of higher educational institutions, partly through the conversion of old polytechnics into universities, carries obvious risks, precisely because these newer institutions tend to cater to a poorer and more disadvantaged student body than is average. Such students are more likely to end up struggling over – and in some cases abandoning – their studies than is the case with the children of better-off parents.

The wrong way to respond to this phenomenon, of course, is just to pretend that it isn't happening. More usefully, we could start looking at the underlying reasons as to why so many poor students give up – and see whether this outward flow can be stemmed.

One field that might repay closer examination is the courses. It is quite possible to welcome the expansion of higher education and at the same time acknowledge that not all courses are suitable for all types of students.

This is a sensitive area; even floating the question of whether universities catering to poorer students might offer more vocational, and fewer academic, courses tends to court accusations of elitism. But perhaps this reflects a snobbery in Britain about the value of vocational degrees. Other European countries appear to be far less hung up than we are about what constitutes a "proper" degree, and by extension have more regard for practical skills.

Another field to look into is student support systems. We should not assume that students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds need the same level of care as more privileged young people. These students often lack the vital external support mechanisms that most middle-class students take for granted at home with their families and friends. This needs to be taken into account.

The exposure of a few bad apples among our newer universities does not mean that the system of expanded education in Britain is in crisis. But the crisis affecting some provides an opportunity for profitable reflection on whether systemic weaknesses exist. The nature of the courses being offered and the provision of care to students look like good places to start.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Support Engineer

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Support Engi...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Advisor - Opportunities Available Nationwide

£15000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Bruce Jenner was interviewed by Diane Sawyer  

Bruce Jenner interview: We think being transgender is a rare thing. And that’s part of the problem

Grace Dent
 

Lily-Rose Depp is not 'all grown up' - she is a 15 year old girl who should not be modelling for an adult fashion magazine

Harriet Williamson
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence