At the heart of the Browne Report and the government's higher education policy is a simple notion allegedly grounded in economics: that the introduction of market forces into the higher education sector will simultaneously drive up standards and drive down prices. The confidence displayed by ministers in predicting these effects would be more reassuring if it were not at odds with the evidence that precisely the opposite is happening. The list of universities committed to charging something near the £9000 upper limit of fees is steadily lengthening, contrary to what Vince Cable has repeatedly told them is in their rational economic interest. And with regard to standards, the American company that owns BPP University College - which David Willetts granted university status only last year - recently lost its appeal in the US Supreme Court after being found guilty of defrauding its shareholders and is under investigation by the US Higher Learning Commission for deceiving students about the career value of its degrees. Since one of the justifications for funding university teaching primarily through tuition fees was to open up the English university sector to the beneficial influence of private providers, this news throws further doubt on the wisdom of government policy.
LRB 19 May 2011 | PDF Download