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.