A RADICAL shakeup of the universities sector could see tuition fees rise beyond £9000 a year and huge corporations like Google and Facebook break into academia for the first time.
In an attempt to root out so-called “Mickey Mouse” degrees, the Government proposes to make institutions publish the amount of time students spend in classes with a teacher and what their average earnings are after graduation.
The plans released this morning under the White Paper entitled Success As A Knowledge Economy have been cautiously welcomed by the university sector but could enrage campaigning students who have already taken to the streets in November 2015 to protest when proposals were still in their infancy.
However with a set of plans now confirmed, institutions that score highly in teaching could raise £9,000 annual tuition fees in line with inflation from 2017 onwards.
With the Universities of York and Leeds both featuring in the top 25 UK institutions in the Guardian’s 2016 guide, they are the kind of top performers that could be granted new fee raising powers.
Plans to open up the higher education sector to greater competition by allowing new “challenger institutions” to award degrees if they meet national standards are also being announced.
Ministers say the reforms could allow employers like Facebook or Google to open their own universities to tackle the skills shortfall in some sectors.
Universities and science minister Jo Johnson said his plans were focused on giving students the best value for money.
He said: “Our universities are engines of economic growth and social mobility, but if we are to remain competitive and ensure that a high-quality education remains open to all, we cannot stand still.
“Making it easier for high-quality challenger institutions to start offering their own degrees will help drive up teaching quality, boost the economy and extend aspiration and life chances for students from all backgrounds.”
However Paul Blomfield, Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Higher Education and member of the Commons committee which scrutinises the Government’s university reforms said graduate earnings are as much determined by social class and employment sectors as the quality of teaching and it might not be right to use it as a basis for the proposed fees rise.
He said: “It would also be a big mistake to increase fees on the back of any flawed assessment process.”
“Creeping privatisation of higher education” through new challenger universities is also a threat, he claims.
“They should learn from the experience in the US, where for-profit universities have milked the publicly-funded loans system, making money at the expense of students and the taxpayer,” said Mr Blomfield, the former Gerneal Manager of the University of Sheffield’s students union.