With the passing of the second reading of the Higher Education Bill in the House of Commons on Tuesday 19 July, UK Higher Education steps closer to the creation of new universities by ‘new providers’ as well as the raising of tuition fees. This comes on the back of government reorganisation which ends the separation of schools from colleges and universities, whilst moving university ‘research’ and ‘teaching’ under different departments. All change then…
Author of recently published ‘Betraying a Generation: How education is failing young people’ Patrick Ainley, explains the potential impact of these changes
A little remarked feature of Theresa May’s new order is the amalgamation of schools with further and higher education in a unified Department for Education.
Like my book, the enlarged Department covers everything from primary to postgraduate schools, including training. It ends the previous unclear division of schools from colleges and universities – criticisms of which under the Coalition were not pressed too far lest they ended in Michael Gove running FHE and training as well as schools!
However, the reorganisation leaves research within what is now the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy.
This separation of research from teaching will switch the focus within English universities away from the previously privileged research towards prioritising teaching. Or at least meeting the targets specified in the Teaching Excellence Framework proposed by the Higher Education and Research Bill that passed its second Commons reading on Tuesday.
Reduce undergraduate numbers
Loss of European research funding is anticipated despite concentrating domestic research funding in a new unitary body. Student recruitment will also be hit by Brexit just as student achievement, retention and widening participation becomes vital for higher education institutions’ survival in competition with the new private providers that the Bill aims to encourage, offering two-year degrees and other qualifications at lower cost. This will reduce undergraduate numbers or at least allow some universities to charge higher fees while many charge less or go out of business.
Management buy-outs and corporate buy-ins of universities are also expected. Student numbers in Higher Education ‘proper’ will then be reduced as places there become more expensive, while being separated from the mass higher education that has colonised areas of vocational education and training which were traditionally the preserve of FE colleges. This tendency is heightened by closures and mergers of FE colleges accelerated through the processes of area review.
Meanwhile, the new Secretary of State for this unified Department of Education, Justine Greening, has declared her ‘open-mindedness’ about restoring grammars schools (BBC News 17/7/16), despite her own comprehensive schooling.
Nick Timothy, Mrs May’s special adviser, is also in favour. They see reintroducing grammars as a way to restart upward social mobility, boosting ‘social justice’.
“a magic solution… to somehow conjure German-style productive industry out of the UK’s deregulated economy.”
It is a magic solution like that behind the policy consensus on ‘rebuilding a vocational route’ – and ‘apprenticeships’ in particular – to somehow conjure German-style productive industry out of the UK’s deregulated economy.
Cameron promised 3 million ‘apprenticeships’ in 2015 as an alternative to HE but post-Brexit employers will likely be excused the £3bn levy to pay for them so that they will predictably collapse into a poor replica of the 1980s Youth Training Scheme.
Those who want a return to selective secondary state schooling – whether grammar and/or technical schools – do not understand that this is not necessary now that the National Curriculum crams everyone with ‘a grammar school education for all’.
Michael Gove seemed genuinely deluded that this was possible, despite the fact that, by definition, grammar schooling – like private schooling – is premised on the selection of a minority. Gove thought that if starting points were equalised by the same schooling for everyone – although the exemption from the National Curriculum for private and free schools is inconsistent with this – ‘fair outcomes’ could be achieved.
“In the…new market state, schools are semi-privatised but state-subsidised..”
His successor, Nicky Morgan who lost her place in the Cabinet after supporting Gove’s leadership bid, only diverged slightly from his program by succumbing to pressure from her Party to allow a grammar school in Tonbridge to open an ‘annex’ 10 miles away in Sevenoaks. If this passes judicial review, it may set a precedent for other surviving grammar schools to open similar offshoots, perhaps leading to chains of academically selective state-funded grammar schools as their opponents fear. Or the 1998 law against new grammars could be revoked as Greening has intimated.
In the familiar formula of the new market state, schools are semi-privatised but state-subsidised so they are free from ‘bureaucratic’ local authority control. Instead, in a national system nationally and no longer locally administered, schools are contracted out from the centre, or, as this becomes increasingly remote and bureaucratic, delegated to the oversight of an additional layer of appointed regional commissioners.
These ‘independent state schools’ are not required to follow the National Curriculum, and they enjoy other ‘freedoms’, such as not having to employ trained teachers. They are also completely removed from any local democratic accountability, and under the proposed Education and Adoption Bill will lose even locally appointed school governors.
So Justine Greening’s ‘open-mindedness’ about bringing back grammar schools will not restart upward social mobility any more than David Cameron’s phoney ‘apprenticeships’ could create a productive economy. Moreover, separating teaching from research in higher education shows HE Minister, Jo Johnson, knows nothing about either of them.
Instead, the Campaigns to Save Our Schools and for Public Universities oppose more competition and division in schools, colleges and universities. To stop failing young people they need to be more than administratively integrated while also retaining national teacher pay scales in schools.
Betraying a generation: How education is failing young people by Patrick Ainley can be purchased here from the Policy Press website for special 20% discounted price £7.99.
The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.