On 28 June, the Government released its White Paper on the future of higher education.
It is dressed up with talk of improving “the student experience”, but, as the President of Oxford Student Union has said, that is like putting lipstick on the pig of big cuts in teaching budgets and big increases in student fees.
Universities minister David Willetts wants to remove the legislative restrictions on private capital entering the university sector.
The government wants more like A C Grayling’s New College of the Humanities, or Buckingham University.
The interesting thing about the A C Grayling creation is that it is run by the charitable wing of a private equity company (an anonymous Swiss family owns around 35%). It’s a botched attempt, having failed to attain degree-awarding powers and the sought-after “university college” title.
The government is stopping central funding to the arts, humanities and social sciences.
Problem: not many private institutions have shown an interest in science, technology, engineering, and maths, because they are costly to run.
Students at private providers are to be given access to the public system of student loans and grants.
Established universities will be fettered in the short to medium term, mainly through the continued use of the student recruitment ceiling, until such a point as the newcomers are able to operate cheaply and competitively.
The White Paper the creation of 85,000 new student places which will be regulated differently from existing student numbers.
85, 000 students (around one in 20 students of the 2012 intake) would be competed for by universities.
Universities would compete to get more students, and with them the extra funding from the government which follows the students.
20,000 of these places would be available only to institutions charging less than £7,500 per year.
Rather than opening up higher education, these changes will make universities even more places for the elite.
As the Economist comments: “supporters of the New College (set up by A C Grayling) admit that it will draw most of its students from a pool of privately educated pupils who risk being shut out of the best publicly funded universities.”
It has been suggested that new “for profit” universities will be marketed to public-school students who miss out on their “first choice”.
In 1979, 25% of university places went to people coming from the top 20% of incomes in Britain. Today it is 50% of places.
The Government has talked up the “new” bits and pieces of access for students to knowledge of individual academics’ standards, costs of local accommodation and the like.
But the basic story remains: Kentucky fried education for profit.