The Browne review places the final nail in the coffin for the belief that universities are about anything other than economic interest. From henceforth, university education in the UK has become a commodity to be bought and sold in a free market for individual benefit. Overthrown are beliefs that university education is about intellectual curiosity, about moral judgement, and about communal interest.
The short-sighted stupidity and naïvety of the recommendation that universities should be able to charge market prices for their offerings must, be challenged. Even for those who see the world purely through an economic lens, the arguments against Browne’s recommendations should be convincing. Imagine a world where:
- British students increasingly live at home and turn to high quality distance-based courses provided more cheaply by excellent universities, often in other countries;
- Many students go overseas to study in countries where education is free, thus making a huge cost-saving in gaining a degree and contributing to the local economies of the countries where they study (rather than the UK);
- Many UK universities shut down, because students realise that the courses they offer are a complete waste of time and do not give them any additional lifetime earning expectations; and
- Employers, realising even more than they do at present that UK universities do not provide the skills for which they are looking, increasingly employ people without degrees, and give them tailored training courses (often collaboratively with other employers) to ensure that they have the expertise required.
These are just some of the likely economic impacts of the recommendations that are now before government. The net outcome will be a dramatic reduction in the UK higher education sector, a shift overseas in the amount spent on fees and maintenance by UK born students, an increase in unemployment of former university staff who are unable to gain any other form of employment, and a decline in the wider contribution of the higher education sector to the UK economy.
Even on economic grounds, a decision to let universities charge whatever fees they think the market will stand is fundamentally flawed. So, even for those who do not care about the social divisiveness, the intellectual sterility, and the communally destructive effects of such policies, these arguments should at least carry some weight!