But first there is
a crisis in education ... higher education. The universities say they simply
don't have enough money to educate all the students. It's been getting
worse over the years because the number of students has been going up.
The government wants half of all young people to be in higher education
by 2010. That will cost. As Terry Dignan reports, the vice chancellors
are saying that something's gotta give.
TERRY DIGNAN: Tony Blair wants these fourteen
year olds to aim for higher education. Many are from backgrounds where
going to university isn't the norm. So this group have come to London's
South Bank University for a taste of college life. But those who run our
institutions of higher learning fear the Government is offering them education
on the cheap.
The Government wants our
universities to absorb hundreds of thousands more students and provide
them with world class teaching and research facilities. But this could
mean a worsening funding crisis for higher education unless the Government
foots the bill. The alternative is to ask those who currently pay towards
their tuition to dig deeper into their pockets. For Labour that's politically
IVOR CREWE: If the university system is
to expand more money must be found to persuade poor students to go to university
and to get universities to find ways of recruiting them and then keeping
them. That additional money has either got to be found from taxes which
is politically unpopular or it's got to be raised from better off students
and their families, which is also politically unpopular.
SIR RICHARD SYKES: We've always prided ourselves
on our higher education system. It's certainly been one of the best in
the world, but to-day, I believe it's in real jeopardy, and it's in real
jeopardy because it is under financed.
DIGNAN: The student population
under both Labour and Tory governments has grown enormously. It doubled
between 1989-90 when there were just over a million - and last year, when
there were more than two million students in higher education. Yet spending
per student here at South Bank and other universities has been severely
cut - down nearly forty per cent over the same period. Although Labour
has halted the decline in funding, it is still well below 1980's levels.
SIR CREWE: There is a funding crisis
in British universities and it really arises from the fact that there's
a been a real cut practically every year over the last twenty years in
the amount of money that universities get per student.
DIGNAN: Tony Blair promises that
fifty per cent of eighteen to thirty year olds will be in higher education
by 2010 - an extra three hundred and fifty thousand students. But whereas
seventy-three per cent of eighteen year olds from professional middle class
families go to university, only thirteen per cent from unskilled backgrounds
study for a degree. Which means South Bank's Vice Chancellor is spending
more on working with inner city schools to encourage pupils there to aspire
to higher education. If he can't fill his undergraduate places, the Government
takes money away from him.
ACTUALITY: "How many of you have
never been inside a university before?"
DIGNAN: Many of South Bank's students
don't have as strong an academic background as those at Oxbridge, for example.
Which makes them arguably more expensive to teach.
PROFESSOR DEIAN HOPKIN: They don't have the kind of family
backgrounds which have books and support. They need a lot more encouragement.
And indeed their prospects they often feel themselves are not quite as
good as those from more privileged backgrounds. That means that the cost
of educating that sector of the population is bound to be greater so you
add up numbers and additional costs and you have a serious deficit in funding
ACTUALITY: "This is Perry Library
and we have three hundred thousand books."
DIGNAN: The agency which distributes
Government funds to English universities says students from less well-off
areas are thirty per cent more expensive to teach. And it warns that without
extra funding, Labour may have to drop its fifty per cent participation
SIR HOWARD NEWBY: It is very important that we
don't sell our students a false prospectus, that we don't attract increasing
numbers of students into a system which is of declining quality. I don't
believe this government wants that, I certainly don't want that, and so
if the resources are not available then I think we, we would have to re-examine
the, the targets.
ACTUALITY: "Theo's got the steady
DIGNAN: The day out includes a
team building exercise. But many students are on their own financially.
Labour has abandoned maintenance grants and introduced tuition fees. Although
the less well off don't pay fees, some argue it's made raising participation
levels even harder. Vice chancellors hope a review of student funding will
help those most in need.
PROFESSOR HOPKIN: When they arrive you have to
keep on encouraging them because of course the monumental task of facing
new challenges and often very serious financial obligations, you think
about this, many of these students are facing student debts greater than
their parents earn and that is really a quite considerable obstacle."
DIGNAN: Imperial College, London,
demands the highest entry standards of its students, many of whom are from
better off families. But like South Bank, it's short of cash. Tony Blair
wants elite institutions like Imperial to compete with the world's best,
especially in science and technology. Fine, they say. We'd love to. But
how can we when we don't have anything like the financial muscle of the
top American universities.
SYKES: We can show very clearly
that we're under funded about three thousand pounds per student per year.
That means that as a college we're losing about forty million pounds a
year on educating students. How can we survive under those circumstances.
How can we remain internationally competitive, its impossible."
DR IAN GIBSON MP: Many of the talented people have
gone elsewhere, they've gone to the States, to Europe and other countries
to do their work. And particularly because not only do they want to teach
students but they also want to do research and the research funding has
not been to the level that's necessary to compete with Japan, Europe and
the United States, so it's been very difficult to keep the excellence that
we once had.
DIGNAN: Imperial College has found
the money to research ways of eradicating malaria. But with so many more
students, higher education cash is spread thinly. A proposed graduate tax
would take years to produce much revenue. Universities say they need the
cash now - an extra nine billion to pay for more students, teachers and
better facilities. Gordon Brown is promising more for science. But now
that students are paying towards their education, he's unlikely to take
much away from other priorities.
WENDY PIATT: Higher education is probably
not a priority. And particularly because the students themselves are able
to contribute more there would be a reluctance from the Treasury to inject
a lot more money into the system.
DIGNAN: The Government could put
a lot more money into higher education quite easily with a big increase
in tuition fees. Labour politicians, though, Tony Blair included, get very
nervous about asking their middle class constituents to cough up more for
their children's education. Yet top universities like Imperial want to
go even further and set their own fees.
SYKES: We would set our fees based
on the institution, based on our mission, based on our courses, based on
what we offer and the final product, and of course, that means that we'd
have to charge full fees. If we did that, we would have to charge full
fees only to those who could afford it, then we would have to have hardship
funds, scholarships, bursaries, so that those people who were talented,
who came in to the college on the basis of, of talent and quality were
actually funded then, through the hardship funds.
DIGNAN: University funding is
being examined closely in Wales and Northern Ireland who want to follow
Scotland where contributions towards tuition are made after graduation.
But many English universities oppose this. Instead, the most popular, like
Imperial, want to levy their own charges. Ministers are now reconsidering
their opposition to so called top up fees.
PIATT: Should the theology student
from Luton pay the same as the law student from Oxford, and the older universities
should be charging much higher fees for their courses because they would
be able to do so.
ACTUALITY; "OK, so now let's look
at some examples of one D-data."
DIGNAN: There are signs support
for top up fees is spreading beyond elite institutions. At the very least,
say many vice chancellors, the current flat fee of just over a thousand
pounds must be increased if next month's comprehensive spending review
doesn't come up with the money they want. These medical students won't
welcome the prospect. And neither will Labour MPs.
GIBSON: I have had some of the
most uncomfortable moments of my political career so far as Norwich North
MP in terms of dinner parties and parties and on the street and in the
supermarkets where people come up and say; oh thank you very much it's
really great the Labour government is asking us to pay a large percentage
of our salaries towards having two or three of our young people going into
higher education, that's not why we voted Labour.
SYKES: I think everybody complains
because once something's been free and then you start to charge for it,
people complain. There's no logic to it. Twenty five per cent or more
of people entering university full time education in this country today,
come out of independent schools. That means they're coming from families
that have been paying substantial amounts of money for their secondary
education. This is a crazy situation, they're now coming in to tertiary
education and getting it basically free.
DIGNAN: Labour says it has already
put more money into universities, especially for science research. But
many of those who run our institutions of higher learning are less than
impressed. At best, they say, the decline in the quality of higher education
has slowed not halted.
CREWE: What will happen is that
we will have a very cheap mass higher education system in which inevitably
the quality of the learning experience for students will gradually deteriorate.
It'll then raise the question as to whether it's worth while expanding
the system in the first place.
SYKES: There's got to be a fundamental
break now to make sure that the top universities particularly are being
funded for the full economic costs of what they do. And if they're not
funded for the full economic costs of what they do, they won't be able
to attract the best people from anywhere in the world, they won't be able
to remain competitive and if our universities don't remain competitive,
particularly in terms of research and scholarship, the country won't remain
competitive on an economic basis.
DIGNAN: Labour has made schools
its priority, not higher education. Yet it has put universities under intense
pressure - to recruit more students, especially from poorer backgrounds
- and compete on a world stage. But who will pay has still to be decided.