Of our elaborate plans, the end

Patrick Ainley and Martin Allen

Society for Research into Higher Education (News) 

http://sociologicalimagination.org

The Coalition’s reaction to the Browne Review of student fees complements their slashing of 40% of higher education funding. Their new hard cap of £9,000 a year on fees leaves unfunded arts and humanities to be paid for only by those who can afford such frivolous pursuits at elite and surviving campus universities – mainly overseas students and others who are seriously rich. For the rest, a market dedicated – like surviving HE research – to the interests of the private sector will offer vocational courses in the STEM subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine as the remaining universities and colleges collapse and merge into a range of local e-learning hubs offering part-time and distance provision.

This marks the end, not only of higher education as it has developed since the war but – more broadly – of the whole effort to reform society through education. If carried into legislation, it will close a phase of progressive reform that began with the official introduction of comprehensive schools from 1965. These freed primary schools for child-centred education and prepared the way for expansion of further and higher education, including the polytechnic experiment. Battling on the uneven playing field of examinations in traditional academic subjects with the surviving private and grammar schools linked to the antique universities in a polarising labour market, it is remarkable that these successive reforming efforts were as successful as they were, especially for young women. In future young people will be expected to mortgage their futures for vocational courses and apprenticeships without jobs in the competing and variously specialised HE institutions now presented as a model for schools and FE to follow. Differentiated fees will heighten the existing social hierarchy in which, as a general rule, the older the university, the younger, whiter, more male and posher its students.

Meanwhile the FE colleges may be swallowed up by this vocational HE become FE. Unless they get two-year degree awarding powers, their only remaining role could be delivering the Apprenticeships Without Jobs that will replay 1970s and ’80s YOP and YTS. FE still has the majority of NUS’s membership, plus one-in-ten HE students and, together with their teachers, F&HE students are well aware that loss of EMAs and raised fees are an attack upon the entire so-called ‘Lost Generation’, as the Wednesday 10th November demo showed. In fact, the strongest argument against raising fees and fully funding F&HE is: what else are school and college leavers supposed to do?

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