Follow Up: Letter about HE Cuts: Reply from my MP Chris White and my reply to him
Last month, I wrote a letter to my MP complaining about the proposed Con-Dem Coalition changes to higher education. I received a letter which did not really address the concerns in my last note, and I have replied again.
Dear Chris White,
Thank you so much for getting back to me. I really appreciate it.
Thank you too for the points made here. I wrote to you about the funding of teaching in Higher Education and you seem to have replied to me about the rise in student fees. Regarding the rise in student fees, I realize that in these proposed changes, some provision has been made to help economically disadvantaged families. I am also aware of the claims made by the Browne Review, though I must point out that I feel that this review was fundamentally flawed, as I stated in my last letter.
Since you are writing to me about student fee rises, I must tell you that I am fundamentally against it. From the point of view of someone who has worked in higher education, these changes in student fees represent a move towards the commercialism of the US Higher Education system, which is fundamentally flawed. It turns Higher Education into a business where students are customers and lecturers are service providers – I cannot tell you how damaging this is to education. An education at university should not be merely focused on summative learning – passing exams, meeting grades – but also about formative learning – learning to question assumptions, considering moral/critical conundrums etc. Only this kind of education can create a ‘big society’.
You have not really answered the objections that I described in my last letter. I suggest that you haven’t answered them, because they are extremely serious objections. I would refer you to them again.
The proposed changes will only deepen the class divide between Oxbridge and Russell Group universities, and the post 1992 institutions. The Browne Report talks about giving students “choices”, but all this means is that students who have the money will go to the better-off universities and those who don’t will be left with badly funded ones. Bad funding means of course large class sizes, harassed staff and few facilities, and so the vicious cycle continues, as student satisfaction is the measure of university success, and how could students ever be satisfied at a badly funded university?
I have taught at a Russell Group university (Warwick University) and at a post-1992 university (Northampton University). I know what the differences are in terms of affluence, education and confidence. I would emphasize, however, that just because my students at Northampton were attending a post-1992 university did not mean that they did not deserve a decent education. Many of them were lacking in confidence and needed more support, but many developed to be great scholars.
If the Browne Report has its way, however, there will be huge pressure on post-1992 institutions. They will not be able to compete, because they will not be funded properly, and this will mean larger class groups, more hours for overworked lecturers, and fewer facilities. Inevitably, the students that suffer will be working class students who can only afford to go to a post-1992 institution.
You tell me that you will be voting in favour of these changes when they come before the House, but you have not really convinced me that you honestly believe in these proposals. What you have convinced me of is that you are a party man representing the concerns of the Conservative Party (which far from represents the whole country) rather than your constituents. I would urge you to reconsider your position, as I am sincerely doubtful that it represents the interests of your constituents and the future generation to come who will have to deal with the consequences of this proposed wrecking of Higher Education in the UK.
Dr. Zoe Brigley Thompson