srhe

The Society for Research into Higher Education

Ian Mc Nay


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The higher education business and alternative providers.

By Ian McNay

The sale of two recently designated ‘for-profit’ universities to owners outside the UK is one indication of the government’s market approach to higher education. I return to this below, after covering another piece of evidence.

Those who do not read the financial pages of the Guardian will not have seen an article by Rupert Neate Cannes on student accommodation as giving ‘first class returns to investors’ (17 March 2017, p33). It included two things that shocked me. ‘Last month, the value of contracts awarded to build student housing projects in the UK totalled more than the deals to build care homes, housing associations, local authority housing and sheltered housing added together’, and flats in ‘some student blocks… in London cost as much as £650 a week’. In Reading, there is one block where prices are £300 per week, and the UK average for one builder was £175 a week. Rents for university owned properties already constitute a supplementary fee and exceed the level of the maintenance loan, adding another financial obstacle to equity of access.

That may be one reason why, paradoxically, students are turning to private HE – alternative providers as they were called by government in last year’s White Paper, and now the subject of an enquiry by the Higher Education Commission, to which Ron Barnett and I were recently invited to give evidence. I did some digging around and the picture that emerged surprised me, and moved me from my initial stance of total opposition. Continue reading

MarciaDevlin


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Making admissions better in Australia

By Marcia Devlin

In Australia, the federal government has been focused on improving the transparency of higher education admissions. I’ve been concerned and written about this matter for some years, particularly the confusion in prospective students and their families around exclusive admissions criteria being used as a proxy for quality.

The government-appointed Higher Education Standards Panel (HESP) were asked to consider and report on how the admissions policies and processes of higher education providers could be made clearer, easier to access and more useful, to inform the choices and decisions of prospective students and their families.

In the context of an increased variety of pathways through which a prospective student can apply or be accepted into higher education in Australia, the HESP found that prospective students, their families and others, including schools, are finding it increasingly difficult to understand the full range of study options and opportunities available, and to understand how they can best take advantage of these options to meet their education and career objectives.

The HESP made 14 recommendations Continue reading

Paul Temple


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Be careful what you wish for

By Paul Temple

At an SRHE conference session not long ago, I remarked on the hostility shown at any mention of neoliberalism. As I recall, the neoliberal charge-sheet included the commodification of higher education, cuts in funding, the proletarianisation of academic staff, an obsession with metrics and targets replacing a culture of standards and quality … the list went on. My response was that while these were all no doubt bad things, neoliberalism was merely a bystander at the crime scene, not the perpetrator. Politicians and their agencies, wishing to exert ever-tighter control over higher education through half-baked ideas about markets and business methods, were the ones wielding the blunt instruments. A proper neoliberal would no more have a view on the size, shape and methods of higher education than they would want to determine the types and quantities of cars produced by the motor industry.

Neoliberals would instead want to reduce government controls on universities (or car makers) to allow them to meet the needs of students (or car buyers) in the ways they judged best. They would want governments to concentrate on Continue reading

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Constructing the higher education student: a comparative study of six European countries

By Rachel Brooks

We were delighted to give the first proper presentation about our new ‘Eurostudents’ research project at the SRHE annual conference in December 2016. As the project will run over the next five years, we hope that we’ll be able to give further presentations about it at various SRHE conferences in the future. Colleagues can also find regular updates on the project website (www.eurostudents.net) and by following us @eurostudents_ on Twitter.

Below we provide a brief background to the project, and explain what we will be doing over the next few years.

Background

There are currently over 35 million students within Europe and yet, to date, we have no clear understanding of the extent to which understandings of ‘the student’ are shared. Thus, a central aim of this project is to investigate how the contemporary higher education (HE) student is conceptualised and the extent to which this differs both within nation-states and across them. This is significant in terms of implicit (and sometimes explicit) assumptions that are made about common understandings of ‘the student’ across Europe – underpinning, for example, initiatives to increase cross-border educational mobility and the wider development of a European Higher Education Area. It is also significant in relation to exploring the extent to which understandings are shared within a single nation and, particularly, the degree to which there is congruence between the ways in which students are conceptualised within policy texts and by policymakers, and the understandings of other key social actors such as the media, higher education institutions and students themselves.

Research questions and methods

The empirical project is guided by four main research questions:

(i) How are understandings of the higher education student produced, shaped and disseminated by (a) policymakers, (b) the media and (c) higher education institutions?

(ii) To what extent do these understandings differ within and across European nations?

(iii) How do students of different national and social backgrounds understand the role of the higher education student?

(iv) To what extent are their understandings consonant with those produced, shaped and disseminated by policymakers, the media and higher education institutions?

To answer these questions, data will be collected from six different European countries – Denmark, England, Ireland, Germany, Poland and Spain (chosen to give variation in welfare regime, relationship to the EU, and mechanisms for funding HE) – and through four strands of work, each of which focuses on a different social actor i.e. policymakers, the media, higher education institutions and students themselves.

new-picture-3The research is funded by the European Research Council, through a Consolidator Grant awarded to Rachel Brooks (Surrey), and runs from August 2016 until July 2021. The project researchers, working with Rachel, are Jessie Abrahams, Predrag Lažetić and Anu Lainio.

SRHE Member Rachel Brooks is Professor of Sociology at the University of Surrey and has edited one of the latest books in the SRHE/Routledge series entitled Student Politics and Protest

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The contradictions of a conservative: David Willetts in and out of office

By Rob Cuthbert

Lord Willetts gave the annual Chancellor’s Lecture at the University of Gloucestershire on 13 October 2016, a university where the Chancellor, Dame Rennie Fritchie, was previously a Civil Service Commissioner, and the VC Stephen Marston was previously a senior civil servant who worked on HE policy with Minister Willetts. But this was not a cosy chat among friends, it was a considered assessment of the state of the university in a global context. It was fluent, it was selectively erudite, and it was possible to believe that Lord Willetts, though not at all boastful, thought he had been a winner as Minister for Universities and Science in the coalition government. Certainly he was aiming to write history, as winners do, even though his subject was the future.

His history began with some of the ‘perverse effects’ of English HE, which he said had for 50 years been beset with a nationwide competition between universities, a situation he blamed partly on the creation of a national university admission system (UCCA, in the 1960s). In the rest of the world it was normal to go to your local university. The English competition led to a university ‘arms race’, which he deplored. It was hard to remember that this was the Minister who argued so strongly for competition between universities as the essential vehicle to drive up the quality of teaching.

The decline in HE’s unit of resource from the 1980s through to the 2000s had, he said, only been reversed when, during his tenure as Minister, undergraduate fees had risen to £9000pa. The new funding regime had then enabled the Coalition government Continue reading


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Will putting schools, colleges & universities under one roof improve English Education?

By Patrick Ainley

SRHE Fellow Patrick Ainley has written a blog for Policy Press on the implications of the merger of schools, colleges and universities in the Department of Education whilst research funding remains under the renamed Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy.

He speculates that with the Higher Education and Research Bill passing its second reading last month, the focus within English universities may switch away from previously privileged research towards prioritising teaching – or at least meeting the targets specified in the Teaching Excellence Framework.

Unexpectedly, the government are still demanding unenthusiastic employers pay £3bn for Cameron’s promised ‘3m apprenticeships’ while the Sainsbury Report on Technical Education and the government’s ‘Post-16 Skills Plan’ might fit very well with the new Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening’s ‘open-mindedness’ to bringing back grammar schools.

The full link to the article is available below

https://policypress.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/will-putting-schools-colleges-universities-under-one-roof-improve-english-education/#more-5281 

 

MarciaDevlin


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Australian HE reform could leave students worse off

By Marcia Devlin

Australia is in full election campaign mode. What a returned conservative government means for higher education is a little worrying, although what a change of government means is worrying for different reasons.

Two years ago, the then federal Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, proposed a radical set of changes for higher education funding including, among other things, a 20% cut to funding and full fee deregulation. While the latter received support from some institutions and Vice-Chancellors, there were very few supporters of the whole package. Among those who did not support it were the ‘cross-benchers’ – the independent and minor party members of the Parliament of Australia who have held the balance of power since elected in 2014 – and so the proposals were not passed.

The government have since introduced Senate voting reforms which means the minor parties will not be able to swap preferences in order to secure Senate seats as they have done in the past, and there is less likelihood of a future cross bench like this one. Which is a shame for higher education in my view as these folk actually listened to the sector and public and responded accordingly. Mr Pyne has now moved onto other responsibilities. But just before he moved, this actually happened: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hc9NRwp6fiI

The new and current Education Minister, Simon Birmingham has released a discussion paper in lieu of budget measures: Continue reading