Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Privatise higher education

I can't fathom the sense of entitlement exhibited by the student protesters. It's as if they don't know, or don't care, that every penny of 'government' subsidy is achieved by confiscating other people's hard-earned wealth, which they would rather have spent on their own children, their favourite charity, or themselves. Actually, it's worse than that: because the government spends beyond our collective means, today's subsidised degrees come at the expense of future generations.

And they seem blind, too, to the fact that government subsidy for thousands of Mickey Mouse degrees distorts the market price for higher education. Meanwhile, many of those who pursue these degrees seem to value them as little as your average employer does, for over a fifth of students drop out, as Gerald Warner reported back in May:
With a 22 per cent wastage rate, we should be reducing university provision by around that figure, thereby making enormous savings in taxpayers’ money. Beyond that, we should be making even larger savings by closing down sink universities whose under-performance is notorious. How, exactly, will our international competitiveness be impaired by denying young Darren two years of getting paralytic in the students’ union bar before he drops out? There is an unconscionable amount of po-faced nonsense talked about expanded access to university: it is predicated not on academic but on political and social engineering imperatives.
Of the students getting excited about £9k/year tuition fees, I wonder how many have seen this chart from the University of Buckingham,

Value for money

Our full honours degree in two years means that we can be competitive in price with other universities. Fees and maintenance costs are incurred for only two years instead of three elsewhere (see below).

From January 2010 annual tuition fees for home students at most UK universities will be £3,225 – a total of £9,675 for a 3-year degree. Buckingham's tuition fees are £8,640 per year (January 2010 start) but taking into account the year's saving on living costs afforded by the 2-year programme, the total cost of a 2-year degree can offer a saving compared with 3-year degrees at other universities.

For example, taking the sum of the loan and maintenance grant to represent a typical year's living costs (£4,950 + £2,906 = £7,856):

Buckingham Other universities
Tuition Living costs Tuition Living costs
Year one £8,640 £7,856 £3,225 £7,856
Year two £8,640 £7,856 £3,225 £7,856
Year three 0 0 £3,225 £7,856

This is exactly the sort of innovation you'd expect from the private sector:
Buckingham remains unique because, unlike other UK universities, we do not receive direct subsidy from the Government and so we can focus on the student rather than worrying about regulatory interference.
Unlike Warner, I don't think the government should be trying to identify "sink universities" and close them down. Instead, they should get out of the university game altogether.

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