University Upheaval

28 Jul 2014

In a little over two weeks’ time (August 14th), former college and sixth form students will awake with an explosion of nervous excitement as the typically dreaded results day dawns. For some, the dream of university will come true, but for others the nightmare scenario of being rejected will haunt them for another year. 

This exuberant occasion does, however, come at a time when the government continues to play Monopoly with the lives of upcoming university students. With places at uni incredibly competitive, fees becoming almost as costly as a game of tennis with David Cameron, and a crippled job market that has no need for young people no matter how good their qualifications, does the government actually care about the quality of universities? 


Well, by raising the maximum rate universities could charge for education from £3,000 to £9,000 a year in England, it was claimed by David Willetts that students would benefit, by being subjected to “a stronger focus on high quality teaching.” This is, of course, utter rubbish; the government’s aim was to save itself money by forcing most of the tutoring costs onto students and their relatives – and they have the cheek to say that they are trying to reward ‘hardworking’ families. As if making up the word ‘hardworking’ wasn’t enough.

However, figures released in March showed that 45% of students would not earn enough to repay their student loans, meaning this debt would be written off. Interestingly, if the figure were to reach 48.6%, the government would have lost more money than it has gained from raising fees – superb economic planning. It also means that, technically, 45% of students with degrees will not earn more than £21,000 a year, which is, considering the years of painstaking effort needed to achieve a degree, as depressing as Vince Cable conducting a funeral service.

The Brown Review (published in 2010) recommended removing the cap on the level of fees universities charge for tuition; so who’s to say the government won’t allow an increase in fees in the future? Stranger things have happened (Ed Miliband eating a sandwich, for example). 

Speaking of strange events, it seems odd that Gordon Brown’s government would elect John Brown (a former chief executive of BP) to head up a review about universities – what experience could he have? Well, during his time in charge of BP, Brown implemented a harsh cost-cutting programme (sound familiar?) which, allegedly, led to a series of major accidents – just the chap to help determine the future of British higher education. Also, since BP drill in the North Sea, keeping an undoubtedly influential ex-chief executive sweet by giving him important jobs could ease the government’s fear of Scotland running off with all the oil (not that western government would ever be bothered about oil). 

The men placed in charge of universities by the government do little to inspire optimism either. The Minister of State for Universities and Science (not exactly sure why universities and science are classed together – maybe it’s because the government likes to experiment on students’ futures) before this month’s reshuffle was David Willets.  

In 1982, Willets worked as Head of Treasury monetary policy division; in 1996 he was paymaster general; from 2005 to 2009 he was senior policy advisor to actuaries Punter Southall (which basically involved gambling with people’s money). Essentially, Willets has always been an accountant. So, this man didn’t vote for a rise in tuition fees, an end to EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) or against spending money to create jobs for young people because he believed – as the government stated – it would improve the education and welfare of students, but because it would save money. 

It’s a similar story with his replacement, Greg Clark. Obviously, Clark has been brought in to try and make voters forget about the ignorance of Willets. However, would you believe that Clark’s previous role was Financial Secretary to the Treasury? And that he too voted to raise tuition fees and end EMA? Another accountant – just what’s needed! 

We’ve known for a long time that, generally, governments like to run a tight ship when it comes to the economy, not spending a penny more on the public than they have to. But, by attempting to get the economy back to being ship-shape and Bristol fashion, when will they realise that other areas – particularly university education – are sinking? 

By James Morris


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