Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Russell Group's Wendy Piatt Discusses UK University Cuts

From Twitter:

Dr Wendy Piatt due to appear on the Jeff Randall show on @skynews later today to talk about university cuts

Are the British Government leading UK science down the garden path to third world STEM nation-ship? Or do universities need to consider their role in cheapifying themselves through reduced calibre student intake, increasing lower-cost business studies courses, at the expense of engineering, mathematics and physics?

[Comment left by capot on CiF: I know a woman who was sent four emails with three different answers on her eligibility to progress to the next year. One of the emails very explicitly said her results were well below the standard required. Out of the blue, she was allowed to continue. That was a Russell group university. The course was said to be the most sought after in Britain in that subject area.]

Or is 'the market' at fault for attracting bright STEM graduates away from producing good science into calamitous banking complexity? Could universities have worked closer with schools to foster interest in science beyond teenage, celebritifying their bestest alumni? One notable item has emerged from the Alan Turing Year 2012 project, there's no money in Government to celebrate a true British genius. Perhaps if Ministers had put their hands in their own pocket regularly, rather than in the taxman's, as Obnoxio so indelicately puts it, "It's the insane unreasonableness of arrogant MPs", there might be a little bit left over for fantastically engaging science projects. Turing digress over!

The Guardian delivers Dr Wendy Piatt's bleak outlook for UK universities (audio report).

Other reports here:

"While academics are terrified by the threat of redundancies and pay cuts, commentators are rightly worried that cuts and fee-rises will threaten the project of opening up university education to a wider section of the public" (Guardian CiF)

"The Russell Group, which represents the top 20 universities, warns that the cuts will damage research and teaching, as well as British competitiveness. They point out that, by contrast, other leading European economies and the US are pumping more into universities as an investment for the future. The impact of the cuts would be felt quickly in terms of student places." (London Evening Standard)

"Spending cuts targeting universities are threatening to bring Britain's higher education sector "to its knees"." (Politics.co.uk)

Michael Arthur and Wendy Piatt warn: "It has taken more than 800 years to create one of the world's greatest education systems and it looks like it will take just six months to bring it to its knees" (in the Guardian)

Responded with fair points:

"You can't be immune from cuts given the size of the public sector deficit. Leaving your funds intact means some pensioner freezes, OK?

So you have three choices left -

1. Swallow the cuts and make do with less. Don't pretend our gold standard universities don't have some old duffers on the staff drawing salaries for doing bugger-all, nobody will believe you. {guffaw, guffaw!!}

2. Increase tuition fees to plug the gap.

3. Admit that Blair's dream of 50% of people going to university was ineptly planned and implemented: allowing a bunch of former tech colleges to call themselves universities and hand out confetti degrees for "music technology" or "media studies" to any fool who turns up, with no prospect of ever being sent down and jeopardising future funding, was the real betrayal of the gold standard.

Newspapers and recording studios are not hiring these days, and the end of the recession is not going to change much. Most of the cannon fodder drafted in to make up Blair's wish-list numbers should be doing apprenticeships or some other vocational training. Which might actually lead to decent, well-paid jobs.

And they would not be starting those jobs with a £20,000 student loan to repay". [stevehill, from here].

And finally: "... some Russell Group universities (especially Oxbridge, LSE, Imperial and UCL) are secretly loving the prospect of these cuts. They know they'll survive them, but they also know it gives them just the right amount of political leverage to force the government's hand on eliminating tuition fee thresholds, which is ultimately the modus operandi of the Russell Group. Wendy & Michael, be upfront about who and what you're representing here. The fall of London Met, Manchester Met, Liverpool John Moores, or many more of the substandard creations of the 1992 Education Act will not keep you awake at night." [snappymuffins from here].

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