Higher ed­u­ca­tion is now a mar­ket, so al­low the worst uni­ver­si­ties to go bust

The Sunday Telegraph - - Sunday Comment - TOM WELSH H READ MORE

stan­dards as uni­ver­si­ties lower en­try re­quire­ments and hand out ex­ces­sive num­bers of firsts to at­tract cus­tom. The loan sys­tem is a mess, load­ing fi­nan­cial obli­ga­tions on to tax­pay­ers be­cause a huge num­ber of stu­dents will never pay them back.

Rather than cut­ting fees, as a Gov­ern­ment re­view looks set to rec­om­mend, which would re­quire uni­ver­si­ties to com­pete in­stead for state sub­sidy, it would be bet­ter to re­form the sys­tem so that grad­u­ates pay the uni­ver­sity di­rectly, as a pro­por­tion of their fu­ture earn­ings, to cre­ate a proper in­cen­tive for the in­sti­tu­tion to make them em­ploy­able.

The fail­ure of a uni­ver­sity, while deeply up­set­ting for those af­fected, would be the sys­tem work­ing as it should. The “con­ta­gion” the BBC frets over would be thou­sands of young peo­ple re­assess­ing the value of var­i­ous uni­ver­si­ties. It could en­cour­age ap­pli­cants to look harder for ev­i­dence that the course they are be­ing given an un­con­di­tional place on is re­ally worth the time, money and risk. Or is it a too-good-to-be-true of­fer from a trou­bled busi­ness look­ing to put bums on seats? You might see the emer­gence of the equiv­a­lent of debt rat­ings agen­cies for higher ed­u­ca­tion, to pro­vide in­de­pen­dent in­for­ma­tion where cur­rently there is none.

In any case, the al­ter­na­tive – a bail-out – is un­palat­able. It would be a re­ward for fail­ure for uni­ver­si­ties that have grown ar­ro­gant off the back of the 50 per cent grad­u­ate tar­get. And it would sig­nal to stu­dents that higher ed­u­ca­tion is a right that the Gov­ern­ment will al­ways en­sure is met, rather than a choice to be bal­anced against al­ter­na­tives. If we are to have a mar­ket in ed­u­ca­tion, let it work freely. Let bad uni­ver­si­ties go bust.

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