How to bankrupt a country’s educational system

Universities are having their funding cut like every part of the British Government, aside from the National Health Service. The need to reduce costs is understandable, but the scale of the cuts and the details of tuition fee rises will damage the quality of education in this country in both the short- and long-term.

The idea of raising tuition fees is questionable, but if the government does implement such funding cuts, then it seems to be the only workable way of replacing the money that the universities need to operate.  The BBC News website has posted an interesting article about this, which suggests that graduates may end up repaying twice the amount that they originally borrowed.

However, the details of the spreadsheet created by some of the country’s leading accountants (Student Loan Repayment Timetable) are even more interesting. The document assumes that from a starting salary of £25,000, a graduate will need to receive a salary increase of £1,000 every year for 30 years, on top of normal wage increases. This also assumes that the graduate will never lose their job, and be earning over £80,000 for the last 11 years of the repayment lifetime. This set of circumstances is probably unachievable for the vast majority of students who are subject to the raised fees. However, this graduate would still have £14,512 written off!

If 20 graduates reach roughly the same level of (unlikely) circumstances, then their debts to be written off will total around £300,00. The most recent number of graduate numbers for the UK that I could find was for 2008, when 334,890 students graduated. If 50% of these were under the new tuition fee system and were paid the same amount as the example from the spreadsheet, then the debts to be written off would be £2,429,961,840. The numbers of graduates will probably increase from the 2008 levels, and the amount that most graduates will have written off is likely to be significantly higher. My guess is that the debts to write off could easily be 5 times that amount, since I imagine most students will not receive the same unrealistic wage rises as set out in the spreadsheet.

This leads to the main problem with the new tuition fee system, in my opinion. If the graduate debts are written off after 30 years, who will pay for this? Will the Student Loan Company have to accept it? Will the cost be passed to the universities? Will it have to be accepted by the government, so increasing the national debt? £2billion is a very conservative estimate, but I think any government would struggle to cope with suddenly having this amount added to the national debt every year.

Most universities are already suffering. They are forced to cut millions of pounds from their budgets to ensure that they don’t go bankrupt. The amount of money that universities are receiving next year has been cut again. However, many universities are beginning to take drastic measures already. Keele University is considering closing the PhilosophyProgramme and the Centre for Professional Ethics at Keele. The PEAK is a world leader in medical ethics, according to a major contributor to the British Medical Journal’s Journal of Medical Ethics. This is according to a paper submitted to one of the University’s main decision making bodies by some of the most senior academics and administrators, including the Dean of Natural Sciences, the Dean of Health, the Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Director of Human Resources, the Director of Finance and one of the Deputy Vice-Chancellors. The paper is here for those who want to look – Senate Paper.

The paper suggests that certain elements of the PEAK could be incoporated into the Law School, although this seems to suggest that doctors should focus on avoiding being sued, rather than on what is ethical. The paper also acknowledges some of the effects of closing such an academically important department, such as  impacts on academic standards, employee-student relations, equal opportunities, existing commitments, and student recruitment, and a greater likelihood of legal action. The paper also states that the University is receiving a cut of 25% to the money related to teaching at the Schools of Nursing and Medicine, and then states that it will be taking action to avoid passing these costs to the Schools (page 5 of the document). Although I do not want to seem like a conspiracy theorist, this seems very suspicious, especially when 3 pages later the paper acknowledges that “the cost structures of laboratory-based subjects are necessarily different from those of classroom-based subjects” (page 8). Another worrying section is “  The [Working] Group noted that undergraduate FTEs currently associated with Philosophy could be redistributed to other programmes within the School without requiring additional resource, thereby protecting income.

This has provoked outrage from students, alumini, and staff at Keele, and students and staff at other universities as well, who are organising a campaign to save this vital part of the University. One of the main concerns is for those currently studying Philosophy, because although the department will be kept open while there are still students on the course, their education will almost certainly suffer. Once the department stops taking new students and the staff know that in 2 or 3 years they will lose their jobs, I’d imagine that most of the lecturers would try find new jobs straight away, rather than waiting for their time to run out. If the lecturers were all able to find other jobs, which is not guaranteed with other universities also cutting jobs, this could leave students currently in their first year with no lecturers at all in their final year!

The rushed nature of the changes to higher education funding, with a political desire to find short-term savings, is leading to long-term harm to education, both now and in the future. After all, Confucius, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, Nietzsche and Sartre are all irrelevant to the government’s holy grail of ‘enterprise’…..


About Political Details

I'm a non-partisan political analyst, who thinks that the details of how policies will work are more important than the ideologies that justify them.
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