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Thu 8 Sep – Guardian HE – First or fail: BPP University College and Edinburgh University fees September 10, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Tuition Fees.
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First or fail: BPP University College and Edinburgh University fees

A private provider charging £5,000 a year compares well with the £36,000 over four years being charged by a Scottish university


The McEwan Hall and Bristo Square, Edinburgh University

The McEwan Hall and Bristo Square, Edinburgh University: four-year degrees at Edinburgh University come with a £36,000 price tag for some students. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

Who has had a good week (heading for a first) and who has had a bad week (heading for a fail).

Heading for a first: BPP University College

With shrewd timing, as Scottish universities prepare to charge £9,000 a year to non-Scottish UK students from 2012, BPP University College – the UK’s only for-profit private provider with degree awarding powers – has announced it will set fees at £5,000 a year for its three-year programmes, and £6,000 a year for two-year programmes.

The announcement wasn’t only significant for the contrast with the Scottish universities, but more pertinently because it has deliberately moved to undercut all English universities with the exception of the Open University, which has set its fees at £5,000 for 120 credits (equivalent to a full year of study in a traditional university).

So with BPP aggressively positioning itself to undercut mainstream provision, and with a confident pitch of career-focused courses to deliver on the employability agenda, the foundations are surely set for an aggressive growth strategy to start snapping up increasing numbers of undergraduate students.

Of course critics will be quick to question how quality provision can really be provided at just £5,000 a year, suggesting that the for-profit sector must obviously be offering some kind of sub-standard qualification. But the truth is, I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest these accusations have any substance. It’s probably fair to say that BPP doesn’t offer the rounded student experience of many other institutions – you won’t find too many clubs or societies or even anything resembling a students’ union – but they don’t pretend otherwise and seem pretty confident there will be lots of students signing up come next September.

Heading for a fail: Edinburgh University

When the Scottish Nationalist party pledged, along with Labour and the Liberal Democrats, that they wouldn’t introduce fees for Scottish students choosing to study in Scotland at the last Scottish election, it was a clever ploy. And it provided a noticeable contrast with the deeply unpopular tuition fee trebling that the Westminster coalition government squeezed through parliament in the face of unprecedented opposition.

But while pledging not to introduce fees for Scottish students was a vote winner in Scotland, or at least not a vote loser for any parties who didn’t break ranks – only the Conservatives made it clear they would look to bring in fees – it was always going to cause a funding problem somewhere, unless an unpalatable solution was afforded to universities. But few had realised quite how unpalatable the solution would end up being.

A minor quirk in European law means that while a government can’t legislate to discriminate between citizens of EU countries, they can discriminate within a country. And while the interpretation of this is being challenged, for the meanwhile at least it has opened the door for the poor souls from the rest of the UK, ie England, Wales and Northern Ireland, to be saddled with the unenviable task of trying to fill the funding shortfall Scottish universities feel that is opening up.

While Aberdeen and Heriot-Watt universities showed a modicum of restraint by limiting their £9,000-a-year fee to an overall of maximum of £27,000 even for those on four year courses, Edinburgh University showed no such restraint, unleashing the quite preposterous standard fee of £36,000 for a four-year course.

I’m not alone in being disgusted by the size of the fee that Edinburgh University has decided to charge. But I’m equally disgusted by a Scottish Nationalist party administration in Holyrood abusing the fact that Scotland is a part of the UK, and allowing the clear discrimination against students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland to prop up the finances of Scottish universities.











Thur 25 Aug: First or fail: university admissions tutors and the Scottish government August 25, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education.
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First or fail: university admissions tutors and the Scottish government


Praise for those dealing with the clearing frenzy, but criticism of the SNP for excluding students from the rest of the UK

clearing advisers

Admissions tutors did a great job of dealing with prospective students this year, but Aaron Porter wants to see a move to a post-qualification application. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

The verdict on who has had a good week (heading for a first) and who has had a bad week (heading for a fail).

Heading for a first: university admissions tutors

It’s probably been a busy week, but it’s also been a record week for university admissions tutors. As expected, there was a late scramble for university places once A-level results were announced. With greater demand than ever before, pressure for clearing was unprecedented, with many students desperate to secure a place in the September 2011 entry before tuition fees treble next year. Places were getting snapped up more quickly than bargains in a Christmas sale, and by the start of this week 17,878 had already been allocated, a jump of 31% on last year. With places getting filled in record time, and pressure from university management to get bums on seats in order to balance the books, the pressure was on admissions tutors to deal with thousands of frantic prospective students hoping to secure a university place. So this week admissions tutors definitely deserve a first.

But for all my admiration of what admissions tutors do, particularly in the busy week that follows A-level results, I can’t help but think it simply papers over the crack of a much bigger problem. The fact that in 2011 we still have a system of university admissions based on predictions and followed by an annual frenzied clearing auction can not be right. I agree with my predecessor as NUS president, Wes Streeting (now chief executive of the Helena Kennedy Foundation), writing for the Huffington Post last week who said that “it’s time to consign this university bargain basement to the dustbin of history.” The sooner we can move to a post-qualification application (PQA) system, the better. The government has signalled its intent to investigate PQA in the recent higher education white paper, and this is one pledge I’d like to see the government keep.

Heading for a fail: Scottish government

We saw the commencement of a legal challenge against the Scottish government this week, for what critics believe is their contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. While the cast-iron guarantee from the Scottish National party government in Holyrood to stick to their pledge for free education in Scotland is laudable, there is a horrid whiff of hypocrisy about it. Despite offering a free education to Scottish students studying in Scotland, an entitlement extended to other students coming from the rest of the EU, students from the rest of the UK are charged between £1,820 and £2,895 per year, set to rise to £9000 next year. Paul Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers believes this contravenes not only the European Convention on Human Rights, but also Britain’s Equality Act.

The implications of this legal challenge will be significant. Scottish universities are already claiming a funding shortfall somewhere in the region of £200m, and with students from the rest of the UK footing much of the bill already, the funding black hole will get bigger if the SNP government loses the case.