Thursday, June 10, 2010

British higher education should face "radical change"

. . . claims the new coalition government's minister for universities. The full story is here. An excerpt:

"[. . .] The university system is in need of "radical change" to give a better deal for taxpayers and students, England's universities minister has said.

David Willetts said Labour had left university funding in a "mess" and the coalition needed to make £700m savings.

Universities in England had to find cheaper and more flexible ways to teach, he said.

A tuition fees review is under way, led by former BP boss Lord Browne, and is expected to report in the autumn.

Mr Willetts told the BBC he did not want to prejudge the outcome of the review and was not "assuming that fees should rise", but that students should consider university fees "more as an obligation to pay higher income tax" than a debt.

Current fees in England are £3,225 a year and graduates pay the money back only when they earn a salary of £15,000 or more. [. . .]

[. . .] Mr Willetts is promoting the idea of students studying for a degree at any university in England, with lectures and classes being held at their local further education college or other institute.

"That means that you don't have the costs of living away from home but you do get a prestigious degree and that's actually how we spread our access to higher education," he said.

This would also help meet rising demand for degrees, he argued.

It would also be a far cheaper option.

The model the government has in mind is that of London University.

It says it has 45,500 students studying by distance and flexible learning in 180 countries.

Another 6,000 students in the UK do the same.

This is on top of the tens of thousands of students - the majority - who do study at the university's institutions in the capital.

The university is made up of 19 colleges and institutes.

Thousands of other UK students already study through distance learning with the Open University and degree courses are also taught by some further education colleges.

It is the extension of universities into this area that the government is keen to encourage. [. . .]"

While more encouragement of distance learning may well be a good thing, I am not sure if it would be good for it to be the normal "university experience" students might expect. School education is about more than learning English or maths, but also learning with and learning from others together in an educational setting. Likewise, the same holds -- or so I would argue -- at university or college. It'd be a real pity if the on campus university student experience was one open only to society's most privileged or only a real option for those who could commute from their family's home.

I will be watching these developments very closely and commenting on them as they appear . . .

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