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The Society for Research into Higher Education

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Nonsense on stilts

By Rob Cuthbert

How does government think Britain’s higher education can be improved? The government legislated in 2017 to expand competition in a statutory higher education market. We may think this is a consistent policy narrative for public services, but consider the experience of transport. How does government think Britain’s transport system can be improved? After years of debate the government finally announced in October 2016 that it would expand Heathrow rather than Gatwick. And in recent months government has considered reopening some railway lines closed in the Beeching cuts 50 years ago. These policy choices in HE and transport differ considerably in how they have been framed.

50 years ago government set up the Roskill Commission to examine alternatives for London’s third airport; it relied heavily on an economic perspective. Peter Self’s (LSE) famous article in Political Quarterly in 1970 said: ‘Nonsense on stilts … Bentham’s unfair description of natural rights, is a phrase which might more fairly be used of the gigantic cost-benefit exercise which is currently being carried out by the Roskill Commission’ It was academic economists who helped to dismantle the primacy of economic arguments. In 2017-2018 the government is consulting on proposals for the third runway at Heathrow, with new legal objections coming from the local councils around the airport. Politicians losing the political argument are resorting to law. Economics no longer frames the argument.

50 years ago drastic cuts in the rail network followed the ‘notorious’ Beeching report: ‘ Continue reading

MarciaDevlin


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Election Promises

By Marcia Devlin

When they were in opposition, the now Australian government promised they would make no cuts to education if elected. But that was before the election, you see. Now they have been elected, they are proposing a twenty percent cut to base funding for universities.  It’s after the election now and things are very, very different. The main difference I can see is that opposition are now the government.

While in ‘proposal’ form at the time of writing, this cut will almost certainly go ahead. The government have also proposed a significant increase in the interest rate for the loans Australian students take out to pay their contribution to their study costs through the Higher Education Contribution Scheme.  This increase and related changes will deter some students from studying at all; will create lifelong and crippling debt for many graduates; and will have a particularly adverse effect on women graduates who take time out to have and raise children while their study loan debt compounds. There is almost universal opposition to this component of the government’s suit of proposals so its trajectory is less certain.

The government have also proposed the deregulation of fees for study. Fee deregulation has gone so smoothly in the UK, you see, and resulted in such an improvement in fairness, equity, quality and all-round happiness for everyone that they simply could not let the opportunity to do this in Australia pass. Oh, wait … maybe that’s not why we’re doing it. I can’t remember … Continue reading