Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The House of Lord: Our Last Hope?

The House of Lords is set to debate the bill raising tuition fees at British universities from about £3,200 to as high as £9,000 today. Let us hope that they will vote against it. There are many good reasons. One particularly compelling reason whatever side readers may prefer is the lack of proper consultation. In mid-October, there was a review, the Browne Report, recommending several fundamental changes to the way that universities were funded. This included a rise in fees with a graduated levee for fees of £6000 or more. The coalition government had timetabled a vote on raising fees little more than a month after receiving the report. More worryingly, the proposals that the government is endorsing in this bill and subsequent bills differs in many significant respects from what the Browne Report had recommended. Subsequently, there has been precious little time to determine likely effects of the new proposals (it seems still being worked out) for the future of higher education.

Amongst a great many other things, there should be at least a White Paper reviewing the likely impact of relatively firm proposals that the government would like to implement. While one can understand their desire for swift reform, proper public policy making need not take too long but nor should it be done overnight. Let us hope that the House of Lords defeats this bill if only to permit more time for greater consideration of a suite of new measures the government is keen to introduce. Higher education is one of the true jewels in the crown of the British economy and (dare I say it) "brand": it would a travesty if this were to be damaged overnight by too hasty politicians with more concern for putting ideology ahead of sound public policy for the benefit of the common good.

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