Uni­ver­si­ties ‘mis-sell­ing’ de­grees that fail to de­liver well-paid jobs

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Camilla Turner ed­u­ca­tion ed­i­tor

UNI­VER­SI­TIES are pre­sid­ing over a “mis-sell­ing” scan­dal that is leav­ing some grad­u­ates with a lower earn­ing ca­pac­ity than peo­ple who es­chew de­grees.

In a re­view into the mar­ket for higher ed­u­ca­tion, the Na­tional Au­dit Of­fice found that grad­u­ates had an av­er­age debt of £50,000, but that the de­grees they paid for car­ried less con­sumer pro­tec­tion than fi­nan­cial ser­vices prod­ucts.

Prospec­tive stu­dents de­cid­ing whether to go to uni­ver­sity are put in a “po­ten­tially vul­ner­a­ble” po­si­tion as they are given in­suf­fi­cient ad­vice to make an in­formed choice, the Gov­ern­ment’s spend­ing watch­dog said.

Higher ed­u­ca­tion is un­like other mar­kets since there is lit­tle stu­dents can do to in­flu­ence the stan­dard of their course once they have started. They are also un­able to im­prove the qual­ity of their de­gree by switch­ing uni­ver­sity, the re­port found.

Sir Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “If this was a reg­u­lated fi­nan­cial mar­ket we would be rais­ing the ques­tion of mis-sell­ing.”

He said that the spend­ing watch­dog con­sid­ered higher ed­u­ca­tion as a mar­ket and as such, “it has a num­ber of points of failure”.

He said: “Young peo­ple

are tak­ing out sub­stan­tial loans to pay for cour­ses with­out much help and ad­vice, and the in­sti­tu­tions con­cerned are un­der very lit­tle com­pet­i­tive pres­sure to pro­vide best value,” he added.

David Pal­frey­man, di­rec­tor of the Ox­ford Cen­tre for Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Policy Stud­ies, went fur­ther, say­ing the higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem “raises the ques­tion of fraud”. He said: “At what point does it be­come fraud if I am aware of the data, but don’t share it with pupils and par­ents at open days?”

Mr Pal­frey­man, who sits on the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Fund­ing Coun­cil for Eng­land, said uni­ver­si­ties had “to come clean” if their cour­ses failed to pave the way to a well-paid ca­reer.

The NAO found the pro­por­tion of poorer peo­ple en­ter­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion had in­creased, but they were more likely to at­tend lower-tier uni­ver­si­ties, risk­ing a “two-tier” sys­tem.

Robert Hal­fon MP, chair­man of the ed­u­ca­tion se­lect com­mit­tee, said the re­port showed the need for a “rad­i­cal reap­praisal” of uni­ver­si­ties.

Meg Hil­lier MP, who chairs the pub­lic ac­counts com­mit­tee, said: “The Gov­ern­ment is fail­ing to give in­ex­pe­ri­enced young peo­ple the ad­vice and pro­tec­tion they need when mak­ing one of the big­gest fi­nan­cial de­ci­sions of their lives.” Many stu­dents, sad­dled with debt, were doubt­ing their de­gree was worth the money, she added.

Lord Wil­letts, who as a min­is­ter was re­spon­si­ble for tre­bling tu­ition fees to £9,000, said that, look­ing back, some grad­u­ates might have re­gret­ted their choices, “but very few say they wish they had not gone to uni­ver­sity at all”.

Jo John­son, the uni­ver­si­ties min­is­ter, said a re­view of uni­ver­sity fund­ing was to be pub­lished soon.

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