Fees + Funding = A Crisis for UK Higher Education and Universities?

Browne Review

Lord Browne’s Independent Review has called for a radical overhaul of what universities can charge students for their education, amongst other recommendations (NOTE: to date these are just recommendations, and have not yet been implemented by the coalition government, although they have been relatively widely accepted.)

Comprehensive Spending Review

As part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced drastic cuts to the sector – up to one third less for universities over the next four years. Some journalists (I won’t name names) are making the mistaken assumption that increased fees (from the Browne review, above) will make up the difference.


There are so many inherent difficulties that need to be addressed about these two issues, it’s hard to know where to begin. So I’ll attack it, briefly, from the perspective I know best: advancement.

On the face of it, allowing universities to charge what they wish (up to a certain limit, and subject to certain conditions) creates more of a “market” for higher education, more like the American model, which is exactly what the current government is after. Differentiated fees will create new challenges for internal marketing teams, and perceived value and “prestige” will likely take on even more importance.


The crux of the matter lies in the fact that “students won’t be required to pay fees up front” but instead will be extended loans to cover them, and will not be asked to repay until they are making £21,000 per year.

Will students care then, whether their tuition fees are 5K or 10K per year if they may never have to repay it? If the recent strikes tell us anything, they do. But it seems a disincentive to work.

Will more scholarships be necessary in order for second tier institutions to attract the best students? Likely. We are seeing an increased interest in fundraising, particularly as the 2011 HEFCE matched funding programme draws to a close.

What will happen to widening participation? Even at the lowest level, given cuts, universities will need to charge the minimum 6K per year plus expenses. Will this put the neediest students off? HEFCE has already announced the closure of Aim Higher.

How many universities will close or merge in order to reduce costs and duplication of services? How will this affect their communities, and again, students for whom physical access is an issue?

Finally, a graduate tax will undoubtedly have a very negative effect on fundraising efforts from alumni. While most universities will probably need to step up their fundraising efforts in order to close the funding gap, what alumnus or alumna will want to or have the capacity to give when their paycheque is already being siphoned off to pay their debt?


The UK HE system is without a doubt a system in crisis, and will soon have the highest tuition fees in any country with a publicly-funded system. Assuming the government does take on this level of subsidized debt on behalf of the students, it’s not a financial solution either. While students may not feel the impact immediately of the raised fees, the very notion of carrying this level of debt with them throughout their lives will undoubtedly have a huge impact on recruitment – certainly to the “lower ranked” universities, which in most cases still provide returns on investment and quality education. The UK itself will likely suffer most, with decreased long-term competitiveness as fewer students attend university. Although higher fees are accepted elsewhere – namely the US – they were not brought in with a sea change of reforms but rather slowly, allowing for cultural adjustments. Such is not the case in the UK, which would like a cultural revolution overnight. But that won’t change the fact that parents won’t have saved up enough, students rarely take on part-time or summer jobs, or that deep discounting allowed by endowments to help the poorest of students simply aren’t available. Universities are not seen as a worthwhile charitable cause, but rather a public good.

Browne, and the UK government if they choose to accept his recommendations next week, are setting the sector and the UK as a whole up for failure if they think tripling tuition fees overnight and cutting 75% of teaching budgets is the solution.

Do you have other answers? Visit my blog at www.advancehe.com to join in the discussion.

Improving Higher Education Quality Program in Vietnam

The United States Agency for International Development, otherwise known as USAID, is a US federal government agency that’s fundamentally accountable for administering civilian foreign aid to several countries around the globe.

The grants and programs of the USAID are all tailored to aid in the accomplishment of its general agency mission which is to”extend a helping hand to those people overseas struggling to make a better life, recover from a disaster or battling to live in a free and democratic country.”

In line with this mission, the United States Agency for International Development Headquarters in Bangkok has recently established the Improving Higher Education Quality Program in Vietnam.

The program intends to fortify the human and institutional capacity of local Vietnamese higher education institutions, in an effort to create and administer quality education programs, training, and various research programs that support important economic expansion.

USAID has explained this programme resulted from the movement of Vietnam, turning into a middle-income country standing, instead of originally being a low-income country. Due to this speedily changing industrial landscape, the education system of the country is suffering from incredible pressure.

The Improving Higher Education Quality Program attempts to remedy that concern, by way of constituting programs and activities that can potentially leave behind academic legacies which are highly capable of providing effective human capital development.

Among all of the areas of concern are the educations system’s institutional differentiation and autonomy, training, pay, and promotion of professors, reconstruction of instructional strategies, development of 21st century education managers and leaders, and eventually, the development and usage of relevant curriculum.

In its Higher Education Reform Agenda (HERA), the Vietnamese government has said that the education system will be critically improved through improving the standard of teaching and research, extending the autonomy of higher education institutions specifically in academic and administrative matters, with an end goal of improving responsiveness to the requirements of beneficiaries; and finally, increasing private sector investments.

The recipients of the grant award will be tasked to develop programs and initiatives that will address these concerns, and as a result, the USAID Headquarters in Bangkok is ready to administer a funding amount of $2,500,000 to help this initiative.

USAID has stipulated that the organizations and institutions who will be eligible to submit an application under this program are the following:

a) US or non-US non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

b) Non-profit or for-profit setups

c) Academic institutions

d) Private sector entities.

Common Factors That Trigger Mechanisms For Monitoring And Evaluation Of Higher Education

Higher education is offered at universities and post-secondary institutions offering training at diploma and certificate levels. The growth of the higher education sector has resulted into tremendous increase in student enrollment in the past two decades. The rapid expansion of higher education in the last ten years, has raised serious concern over the issue of quality in higher learning. These concerns have led to the creation of national regulatory bodies to protect the quality of higher education. It is globally acknowledged that quality higher education is crucial to national development. The development and utilization of proper and effective mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation of are critical to successful higher education everywhere. Every nation and its university graduates are competing in an environment shaped by its own local and national needs, as well as international expectations and standards.

The need for proper monitoring and evaluation of higher education has been triggered by the following factors

Demand for quality higher education
Students are increasingly becoming a driver for quality education in Kenya and the world at large. In countries where students have a recognized status, they play an active role and are a powerful respected body. A current international trend likely to increase awareness of quality teaching is that students are invited to serve on governing bodies or hired as evaluation experts on par with academic peer reviewers. Students serve on the board of audits and raise concerns about teaching, learning environments, quality of content and teacher attitude. Institutions or departments dealing with competence-based education are often advanced in the institutional support for, and evaluation of, quality teaching. Frequently, they have committed to carefully selecting new teachers and to upgrading their recruitment process to encompass pedagogical skills. In career-oriented or vocational training programmes, students may complain of lack of programme consistency or poor practice-based learning, even when they are mature or working students. Student and alumni associations can easily benchmark learning conditions, teacher attitudes, pedagogy and support, and hence may promote or undermine the reputation of the institutions. Programmes requiring 30 technical skills, like information technology or healthcare studies, must pay close attention to the quality of the equipment and the type of teaching delivered.

Increasing quality assurance and recognition of qualifications
Cross-national recognition of qualifications and joint accreditation of degrees and diplomas is not new to the African continent, and various sub-regional bilateral and multilateral mechanisms have been in place for some time to facilitate these processes, e.g., in East Africa by the Inter-University Council. There is however a broad understanding that the existing international and regional initiatives on quality assurance, and accreditation and recognition of qualifications have to be further strengthened and implemented more effectively. There is a need for new regional and international initiatives to enhance student protection at a global level, while respecting individual countries authority to regulate the quality assurance and accreditation of their own higher education systems. This move calls for more collaboration between domestic higher education service providers and international organizations.

Market Demand for Quality and Relevance of Education.

We are moving very fast into an era where the end-users of the products of higher education are demanding relevance and the need for special skills from the products of these institutions. Today, it is not enough to hold a certificate, it is important to be able to exhibit skills to carry out some services. Higher education institutions therefore need to ensure that the inputs, process and outputs of these institutions through appropriate quality assurance programmes to meet the market demand.

The Challenge of Brain-Drain
This challenge is common in developing nations. For instance it is estimated that about 3 million Africans live in Europe and North America. Over one hundred thousand are professionals. The World Bank reports that approximately 23,000 university graduates and 50,000 executives leave Africa annually. Estimates show that 40,000 PhD holders live outside Africa. There are arguments that the phenomenon of “brain-drain” can be made to be beneficial as the skilled and highly qualified professionals can put their capacities to the service of their home nations, which may benefit from emigrants’ remittances, export opportunities for technology, transfer of knowledge, increased ties to foreign institutions and access to international networks. One important way of retaining African human resources is by improving the quality of education so as to avoid “brain-drain”.

With these factors in mind, it will be necessary to for every country to come up for monitoring and evaluating its higher education system.