What’s that? Did anyone else hear clucking? Pay it no never mind, it’s just the chickens coming home to roost. I’ve spoken a lot on this page about the danger of the ‘university at any cost’ thinking, as well as the risk posed to the devaluation of degrees because of this and the fallout from Brexit as it pertains to higher education.
This week marks a walk out by academics at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Crewe campus due to close in the summer of 2019 after 100 years, with 160 academic jobs put at risk. Students have been assured that they can finish out their degrees but there’s no guarantee that the lecturers will be there to teach them.
We saw last month that Manchester University was threatening cuts as well and this seems to be indicative of an emerging trend across the HE firmament. There is increased competition here and overseas, forcing the need to make cuts at all levels and the government who on one hand encourages students to go to university (through the hands off approach to careers and academic guidance that has gone on for 3 decades and counting) is also introducing ‘gold, silver and bronze’ league table of providers, thus instantly devaluing many of the institutions they are tacitly encouraging students to attend.
Some stats quoted by the Observer show already the stark differences between those at the perceived top and those at bottom of the table. From 2011 to 2015 full time enrolment at Russell Group universities swelled by 15% whereas former polytechnics and colleges as represented by MillionPlus receded by 22.9% and smaller specialist/more vocational, business linked places also shrank.
This is a direct result of Russell Group unis lowering their requirements in some subjects just to get bums on seats, they are presenting it as an altruistic move to encourage those from ‘under represented backgrounds’ to get a foothold in higher ed. But it’s a cynical, financially motivated move to pick up the slack caused by fewer students buying the bullshit rhetoric and fewer students from the EU and overseas opting to come to these shores. The entry requirements for the Russell Group have been slashed by grade and a half (30 tariff points) for maths and history, 20 points for English, law, economics, politics and philosophy, according to entry standards as seen in the Guardian’s University Guide. All of this serves only to further devalue an already downgraded degree.
As the cohorts inevitably grow larger as institutes merge or close then so to, in direct inverse proportion, will the quality of teaching the students receive and consequently their happiness. Something which will be a factor in new metrics being developed, such as the TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) which will chart employability rates, students’ happiness/satisfaction and so on. No one is going to come out of these changes well but in order to sustain themselves, unis have no choice but to lower the barriers to entry to encourage more people to come through the doors.
Universities are being squeezed like toothpaste tubes and inevitably at a certain point a great minty gloop will shoot all over the sink, leaving a bereft tube that is a husk of its former self and a useless commodity that is of no practical advantage that will just be washed down the drain.