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Friday, December 08, 2017

The mis-marketing of higher education

Living in a City with two universities I am used to hearing a plethora of claims about what they can offer students. There are claims about their place on obscure ranking tables, some of which I find difficult to validate, whilst various departments compete to convince prospective entrants into HE of their excellence, both in terms of research and teaching.

The introduction of tuition fees effectively marketised higher education, colleges started to make decisions based on the demand for their courses and how much income they could generate, rather than on the provision of a broad based curriculum. For example, chemistry virtually disappeared overnight from most Welsh colleges, only for them to bring it back in some cases years later.

At the same time students started to have higher expectations. Now that they were personally paying for courses they wanted value for money, and quite rightly.

It is no surprise therefore to see this story in the Guardian, which reports on the verdict of the National Audit Office that if universities were banks they would be investigated for mis-selling.

Auditors say that the Department for Education needs to do more to help “vulnerable” students make better choices about courses. The National Audit Office has called on government to provide more aggressive oversight to ensure value for money:

Amyas Morse, the head of the National Audit Office said: “Young people are taking out substantial loans to pay for courses without much effective help and advice, and the institutions concerned are under very little competitive pressure to provide best value.

“If this was a regulated financial market, we would be raising the question of mis-selling. The [DfE] is taking action to address some of these issues, but there is a lot that remains to be done.”

The NAO found that the increased numbers of disadvantaged students now attending universities were mainly going to lower-ranked institutions – “which risks creating a two-tier system”, dividing those from rich and poor backgrounds.

If Universities are now a business competing for customers then it is quite right that they are better regulated and their claims challenged.
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