£14,000 tuition fees plan for two-year degree courses — our take

This article offers a short response to reports that universities in England will soon be able to offer two-year degree programmes, for which they will be able to charge students £14,000 per year in tuition fees. The proposals are outlined in a BBC article which can be accessed here.

Disguised under the wondrous garb of “increasing choice” for prospective students and opening up education for those from “disadvantaged backgrounds”, we consider the proposals for two-year degree programmes emblematic of all that is wrong with modern day higher education.

To reduce an undergraduate degree to just two years is to accept that universities are now no more than mere factories, churning out graduates into already saturated job markets, but not before condemning them into a lifetime of debt in the process.

We at Free Education Liverpool firmly believe that going to university should be a challenging but largely enjoyable experience through which one learns to think critically about the world around them. It should certainly not be a whirlwind of anxiety one aims to get through as quickly as possible in order to satisfy the labour market at the end of it. This is particularly important at a time when “many students are less happy and more anxious than the general population, including other young people” (Higher Education Policy Institute, 2016). It is difficult to see how the additional pressures fast-paced degree programmes will entail will aid this crisis in mental health on campuses.

Equally troubling is the reality that these proposals essentially ensure the creation of a two-tier education system — with those who can afford to live away from home for three years benefiting from a full degree programme, and those who can’t rushed through the system, while paying more in tuition fees for the privilege. Surely making education free and accessible to all whilst reintroducing grants for those that need support would be a more effective way of opening up education to those from disadvantaged backgrounds than a second-rate £28,000 programme supposedly created so students can “save a year’s living costs”.

In response to arguments regarding “low contact hours” over the course of three-year degree programmes, rather than condensing the existing contact hours into a shorter time frame, would it not be more appropriate to consider the pressures already faced by academic staff in the “exhausting environment” of the neoliberal university (Mountz et al., 2015) and give thought to how departments can be resourced to allow more time for teaching and engagement with students?

There is certainly much to be concerned about regarding these proposals, and we firmly believe that they should be challenged whole-heartedly by all those who believe in decent education as a right, not a privilege.

Solidarity,

Free Education Liverpool.

References:

BBC News, 2016: £14,000 tuition fees plan for two-year degree courses, available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-39076191

HEPI, 2016: Mental Health Paper, available at: http://www.hepi.ac.uk/2016/09/22/many-universities-need-triple-spending-mental-health-support-urgent-call-action-new-hepi-paper/

Mountz et al. 2015, For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance through Collective Action in the Neoliberal University, ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, [S.l.], v. 14, n. 4, p. 1235–1259. ISSN 1492–9732. Available at: https://ojs.unbc.ca/index.php/acme/article/view/1058