Universities are often considered hallowed halls of academic learning which offer you a chance to open your mind and get a degree that leads to a secure, well-paid job. According to a research paper just released by UKIP in Parliament, the reality is that going to university is more likely to lead you into debt and underemployment, and terrify you into conformity. The government needs to reform fees and safeguard free speech on campus if British universities are to serve the interests of students, says the paper’s author, Simon Gordon.
“The current tuition system isn’t working for either students or taxpayers,” says Gordon. “Higher tuition fees haven’t improved standards, pushed up graduate earnings, or produced a high-skilled workforce. They’ve just left more students in debt and made it far more likely that taxpayers will have to pick up the bill for unpaid student loans.”
The UKIP paper, Opening the British Mind, proposes reforming the fees system by operating a sliding scale of fees for individual courses, based on graduate earnings. In practice, universities would no longer be able to charge maximum fees for courses that deliver poor prospects for graduates. This would align the interests of universities with the interests of students, taxpayers and employers, and enable students to make more informed choices when it comes to selecting their academic discipline. It would also give universities an incentive to expand the availability of courses which are most attractive to employers because there is a skills shortage – e.g. engineering.
Gordon’s paper also highlights a disturbing erosion of safeguards for free speech on campus that has flourished because of an illiberal ‘safe-space’ culture. “Universities have a legal duty to uphold free speech,” he says, “but conflicting legislation has enabled politically motivated censorship by both students’ unions and university authorities to the point where 90% of British universities suppress free speech in some way. Certain newspapers and speakers from particular political parties, countries or organisations have been banned from campuses, often following threats of violence. Instead of capitulating to this, universities should be required to provide the security necessary to keep speakers safe from illiberal protesters.”
“The government urgently needs to issue new guidance to protect free speech on campus – an issue that is virtually ignored in the Higher Education and Research Bill,” Gordon argues.
His paper also proposes:
• Widening student choice by scrapping UCAS’s five-option cap on applications
• Diversifying the sources of research funding
• Making public funding conditional on research being made freely available to the public
• Charging EU students the same fees as other international students when we leave the EU
Commenting on the paper, UKIP’s Education Spokesperson David Kurten said: "The Higher Education and Research Bill should have focused on getting the right people into high value courses, not on perpetuating a system which rewards political correctness and pushes far too many students into University when it is the wrong choice for them. Simon Gordon’s paper offers some suggestions on how this could be achieved.”
You can download and read the full report here.