(written by Nick Couldry)
Dear Don Foster
I am writing to express
my deep concern at the cuts proposed by the Coalition to government’s funding
support of undergraduate teaching in universities.
My concern here is not
specifically with the raising of student tuition fees although there are
broader worries that freeing up fees without the large-scale scholarship system
enabled, for example, by the long-term growth of endowments in the US
university system will worsen inequality of access to HEI teaching.
My main concern instead
is with the Coalition’s (specifically your fellow Liberal MP the Secretary of
State for Business,Innovation and Skills’) decision to use Browne’s recommended
freeing-up of student fees as the *pretext* for withdrawing, it seems, all
support for undergraduate teaching except in ‘priority’ areas (science,
medical, languages). The result will be a massive distortion, first, in the
organization of the HEI sector and, second, in prospective students’
decision-making between courses.
Take as an example my
own college Goldsmiths, part of University of London, and with an excellent
international reputation (but it is of course not unique in how the new policy
will impact upon it). Goldsmiths does not teach any of the ‘priority’ areas; it
follows the well-respected tradition known as ‘liberal arts colleges’ in the
USA. It is likely to lose all government support for its teaching, making it
entirely vulnerable to short-term shifts in student demand. No one objects to
some exposure to the pressures of student demand: but that is very different from
receiving no infrastructural support from government whatsoever to underpin
long-term financial planning.
teaching support – with the inevitable consequence that universities will
have to raise fees very significantly in times of economic uncertainty – is an
extraordinary form of short-termism. It will install one criterion, and one
criterion only, as the factor guiding student choice of degree: what job with
what level of salary will this degree help me get?
The inevitable long-term
result will be a narrowing of the range of courses on offer in English
universities and a shrinking of universities into largely vocational
institutions, except for those elite institutions whose existing status may by
itself seem to guarantee high-paid employment. The long-term consequences for
entrenching social inequality and inequality of opportunity still further
through the education system are clear.
As an MP you have a
distinguished record of speaking up on matters of culture. You also have a
career that includes teaching in higher education. I cannot believe that you
are not disturbed by the implications of the coalition’s proposed policy
towards the funding of HEI teaching.
I would urge you to work
within your own party and the Coalition to reverse this ill-advised policy
which seems to have so little in common with the values with which the Liberal
Democratic party has long been associated.