Undergraduates should be forced to foot the bill for their higher education studies, a report by the Confederation of British Industry has concluded. Students face a triple blow, under the proposals - higher tuition fees, more expensive interest rates and fewer grants.
The year-long review of higher education funding by business leaders and vice-chancellors also urged the Government to abandon its target of getting 50% of 18-30 year-olds into higher education. The public purse can’t take the strain, it says, so the onus to pay should be on the students themselves, much as it is in America. It also suggests that such a move would save money and discourage students from taking those courses which don’t offer good job prospects
The CBI has certainly done its maths. It reckons that the Government will save itself around £1.4bn by raising the interest on student loans to match commercial rates, and a further £1.25bn could be raised for universities by increasing tuition fees (currently capped at £3,100 a year) to £5,000. It also wants to clamp down on student grants for those from less well-off families.
This has all gone down about as well as you’d expect with the NUS - Wes Streeting, president of the student organisation, told the Guardian newspaper that the recommendations were ‘offensive’ and constituted a retrograde move that would render higher education institutions the preserve of the rich and privileged once more.
But just in case all you out there in UK plc were starting to feel left out, the proposals also call for an increased contribution to higher education from business, including offering golden hellos to those studying science and engineering.
Of course it’s true that money will have to be saved on public spending, in education as is just about very other area. So the report is certainly timely. And providing the human ‘raw material’ for the economy - literate, numerate and motivated potential employees – is certainly one function of the education system. But is it the be all and end all?
We’re not convinced. Education is first and foremost about developing character, personality and individual achievement, and it is counterproductive to try too hard to manufacture a workforce for its own sake. Fully-rounded individuals who can think for themselves make better employees than any number of cookie-cutter drones-in-the-making.
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