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