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Universities send message – don’t come to Britain – then continue their descent 24 June 2006

Posted by David in Uncategorized.
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Okay, okay, they didUniversityn’t really put out a statement telling people not to come to Britain, but they may as well have. The higher education sector of Great Britain has been paralysed by a dispute over the pay of academics, with strikes halting marking and possibly graduation. What signal does this send to foreign students considering a UK degree? The student unions bizarrely support the pay claims, despite the fact they’ll be paying for it. They do of course expect taxpayers to foot the bill – whether they benefited from a university education or not.

Britain’s universities are in a dire situation, but cannot see it. The American universities are, by and large, far more successful. Even China is coming up – today the best Chinese study in China whereas once the UK and USA were the favourites. Businesses are perplexed by the mind boggling number of institutions and degrees that grows yearly – loosely ranked yearly by newspapers based on spending or reputation of the institution and not on the student’s achievement. How does an employer compare ten economics degrees from ten different institutions? A more competitive, meritocratic and cost effective solution would be for universities to syndicate degrees, so they could be studied at any institution but marked at the founder university – thereby removing degree monopolies and rewarding achievement of individuals instead of institution prestige.

Top academics often leave the UK, where pay is based on years service and not merit, a totally stupid system used throughout the state sector. There is also only a UK wide pay scale, ignoring local cost differences. Funding is a complex and bureaucratic mess, with little or no variation on quality, reputation or degree usefulness – we fund sports degrees as much as chemistry – and there’s certainly no reflection of the student consumer demand. For example the Higher Education Funding Council rejected the application for 800 new places by the very heavily oversubscribed London School of Economics, but enlarged other universities which already had places empty and still do.

All people are expected to work three years longer – until age 68 – but they want half of all people to spend three years longer studying. As the independent University of Buckingham has shown, degrees can be done in two years. Several state institutions are now trying this for those wishing to do so, much to student and lecturer complaints for some reason – it’s only optional after all. Fear of competition is rife. Degrees could probably be done in a year, or at home through the internet. The University of London has run a global external programme since Victorian times. With syndicated degrees, it would be even better.

Higher education is one of the most uncompetitive markets I can think of, yet is so important. There has been no consideration of reform for years, and the system lumbers on.

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