British governmental ‘skills’ now being applied to British universities
THE GOLDEN GOOSE … Greed and the City killed off the financial golden goose – at terrible cost to ordinary people and the economy as a whole. With the problem compounded by government folly, Britain now faces years of debt and austerity to pay for it all. For the moment, the City is reeling, but at least we still have our Higher Education system, don’t we?
Well, errrrmmmm …… yes, we still have it for the moment.
We do – or perhaps did – have a great reputation for having world class universities. Rich foreign parents – including, of course, a good many whose source of income is highly dubious – naturally seek a good education for their children, which Britain in the past was able to provide and their country presumably couldn’t. For decades, a British degree was seen as a precious cachet of excellence in the international paper-chase.
Encouraged to embrace “marketing”, universities have in recent years sought to attract more and more students from abroad, and in doing so charge them very high fees without which many British HE institutions would have collapsed under a weight of debt.
Foreign students have been not only a golden goose, but also a first-class milch cow indeed. And of course, so lucrative
has the trade in paper been that Britain has seemed to accept almost anyone as a “student”. We learned only today that in the last three years, over 1.5 MILLION “students” were given visas to study in Britain, including the would-be terrorist who has just tried to blow up a commercial airliner. So eager have we been to grab the money that checks have been minimal, with many “students” going to bogus schools as well as pukka universities.
But as greed once again corrupts our thinking and years of government incompetence and woolly thinking come to the boil; this is slowly going down the pan …. The signs are clear.
As fees go up and up, the quality appears to go down, a phenomenon not unknown in other sectors of the economy. Even now, many lecturers spend most of their time “researching”. Some university students only have any contact with lecturers for a couple of hours a week. It’s analagous to nursing. Lecturers and nurses are now too important and highly-trained to do the actual job they are needed for, the nitty-gritty rather sordid and unglamorous task of interfacing directly at the sharp end.
Yet now we learn that Peter Mandelson is proposing to introduce two-year degrees. This is being spun as “modern” and “progressive”.
Two-year degrees are a joke. Students need time – time to read, to think. This process cannot be compressed like some cunning productivity breakthrough in a factory. “The teaching can be more intensive”. Really? Who is going to tell the lecturers to cut down their research? Great results CAN be achieved in high-intensity training, such as crash courses in language learning for the military or MI6.
But in British universities? With our current crop of students and lecturers? And of course, there are constant reports that new undergraduates now lack the numerate and literacy skills of yesteryear. First year maths at university is more akin to what it used to be in the Upper VIth. How on earth anyone could think that students need LESS time than in the past to reach degree-level standard is a mystery – unless of course – and here is the rub – the standard is to be reduced. And logically, this can be the ONLY result.
If two-year courses are appropriate, then why have they NEVER been two-years in the past? Have we been wasting humungous amounts of money for tens of decades? Is this government to be praised for suddenly realising this? Or ridiculed for a pathetic attempt to save money at the cost of dumbing down?
So here we return to the foreign students and the golden milch cow. A reputation for quality takes decades to achieve; it can be destroyed in a few years. The rich foreign student only has to get a whiff of the new wind blowing and he’ll be off to somewhere else more serious. And bang will go another British industry, with half our universities closing down through lack of funding. For it is no use expecting “the government” to plug the hole if foreign students go elsewhere. There IS no money to plug holes ….
If British universities really want to embrace marketing principles, they should start with the most fundamental of all. Whatever marketing tricks you employ, people will see through them in the end, and the ONLY thing that will enable your product to thrive is to maintain and improve its quality. For allied with marketing is competition …. Many are watching the British situation and rubbing their hands with glee, with the Americans and Australians being first in line.
I am far from sanguine about the future of the British HE foreign-student money-making machine, and if it goes phutt it will because of short-term greed and poor long-term planning, two things that threaten the whole planet indeed. Of course, if the GB Pound collapses that will make it cheaper for foreign students, but is a collapsing British pound a price worth paying? I think not – though someone is certain to spin it that way.
Indeed, the ability of politicians to try to spin a ludicrous policy is breath-taking: Higher Education Minister David
Lammy said: “Fast-track, part-time and two-year degrees do not represent a reduction in quality but an increase in choice.”
Great, so we have more choice, maintenance of quality and large savings of money. You couldn’t make it up.
By Chris Snuggs