Student choice: the new proposals are all froth and no coffee

This government says it is a great champion of student choice. Yet it is on the brink of legal reforms that risk restricting the options to the kind of choice car-maker Henry Ford famously offered customers in the 1920s: “a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it’s black”.

The diversity of UK higher education is one of its outstanding strengths. Large multi-faculty universities in big cities, smaller specialist universities for subjects like agriculture, performing arts and creative art and design; musical conservatoires; institutions founded by the churches; higher education in FE colleges; new providers opening up new areas of specialism, such as modern music. Students aren’t homogenous; institutions should not be either.

But the government isn’t doing enough to preserve and promote the different types of university that are essential to real choice. When some members of the House of Lords have tried to help them do more by amending the Higher Education and Research Bill, they have been stonewalled.

Fix the funding

The government says it wants to encourage flexible learning and see more people completing full degrees in just two years. But so far it hasn’t taken the opportunity provided by its own Bill to remove the obvious barrier and fix the funding. Some of the newer, private providers have tried to innovate – but they face an uphill struggle.

So why not look at setting a total cost limit for a degree rather than an annual fee? Or, if you…

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