The Tories’ new education white paper proposes cuts to working class access to universities. It gives business more power and will trash higher education (HE).
This is the backdrop for the two day strike by 60,000 university workers this week.
Like other attacks, the changes are presented as positive ones that will help the most disadvantaged. And, like others, they will do the opposite.
The white paper is obsessed with making HE more “competitive”. The “explicitly pro-competition” Office for Students will inspect and regulate providers. Institutions will be graded and any “failure” will be the teachers’ fault.
So the Tories plan to assess teaching “quality” partly by looking at “contact time” with students. And “retention rates are a good proxy for student engagement”.
Like school league tables, this takes no account of the impact of cuts—or students’ circumstances.
Poorer students are more likely to quit courses because they can’t afford to continue. Some students have to work or look after children while studying.
Working class students have few of the advantages those from richer backgrounds enjoy. The value of their education will be immense—but it won’t be measured as such by the Tories.
“Failing” institutions could have funding cut, lose their powers to award degrees or face limits on their student numbers.
Some may “exit the market completely”. For the Tories, this is a “crucial part of a healthy, competitive and well-functioning market”.
The paper adds, without irony, “The government should not be in the business of rescuing failing institutions”. The risk of closure is such that the Tories will force institutions to draw up “student protection plans”.
The paper admits providers could try to “game” the system by taking fewer poorer students.
It claims institutions will be judged partly on whether they are “widening participation”.
“The government has made it a part of everything we do to drive fairness of opportunity and to stamp out discrimination,” it says.In reality all on offer for students is more debt. Institutions that do well “will be able to alter fees”.
The paper exposes the Tories’ real view when it denounces institutions that recruit students “not capable of benefitting from higher education”.
Fat cats will replace institutions forced to the wall. “We will make it quicker and easier for new challenger institutions to enter the market and award degrees,” says the paper.
Any “regulation” that gets in the way will be “removed”.
New providers won’t have to “demonstrate a lengthy track record”. This echoes how private firms with no educational experience have set up academies and free schools.
The paper warns that a “skills shortage” has hit “the nation’s productivity”. It plans to rectify this by giving bosses more power.
A new body will allocate research funding. Its “business facing focus would be enshrined in future legislation”.
More business people will join regulatory bodies and reviews. New Degree Apprenticeships will “help employers get the skills they need”. Bosses will get more say in course content and “curriculum design”.
The white paper makes terrifying reading. It must be fought.