Universities are ‘not providing value for money’

6 Nov 18

Universities are not providing value for money and need a “sharper focus” on graduate skills and outcomes, MPs have urged.

The education select committee also said higher education should be opened up further and more degree apprenticeships offered to address skills shortages, while high pay at the top levels of management should be curbed.

Committee chair Robert Halfon said: “The blunt reality is that too many universities are not providing value for money and that students are not getting good outcomes from the degrees for which so many of them rack up debt. Too many institutions are neither meeting our skills needs or providing the means for the disadvantaged to climb the ladder of opportunity.”

He suggested that the UK’s most prestigious Russell Group universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, should focus more on skills and “rocket boost degree apprenticeships”.

This would help address the skills shortage and make the economy more productive, said the report published yesterday.

Halfon also said the higher education regulator – the Office for Students – step in to limit excessive vice chancellor pay, particularly when it more than eight times the average staff salary.

Vice chancellors were paid an average of £268,103 in salary, bonuses and benefits, according to the 2016-17 Times Higher Education survey.

“Too many institutions exist where vice-chancellors and senior management earn excessive amounts that does not represent value for either the student or the taxpayer,” said Halfon.

“Self-regulation should be out of the question and the Office for Students must enforce strict criteria on acceptable levels of pay that could be linked to average staff pay, performance and other measures.”

The education committee also raised concerns about a fall in the number of mature and part-time students and called for more flexible options to be introduced, allowing students to pause their studies, transfer credits or undertake work placements.

The MPs also called for the government to reinstate the means-tested system of loans and grants in order to alleviate the debt accrued by the poorest students.

Commenting on the report, Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said British universities enjoyed an international reputation for high-quality teaching and research, while students were reporting record levels of satisfaction and in demand from employers.

“While there is still much more that needs to be done to improve social mobility, universities have made good progress in recent years,” Jarvis said.

“In 2017, 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas in England were 82% more likely to enter higher education than they were in 2006. It is important that their work with schools and colleges continues.”

Over the weekend media reports said the commission Theresa May set up earlier this year to review university tuition fees in England, in draft proposals, has suggested students pay between £6,500 and £7,500 a year as opposed to the £9,250 currently charged.

Students from the EU, currently paying an average of £12,000 a year, could pay up to around £35,000 annually.

The ‘Augur review’ on tuition fees is not expected to report before the ONS decides on how student loans should appear in public finances. This decision is due to be made on 17 December.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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