Anyone who has ever been to university knows the first year is essentially a write-off from an academic point of view. You join clubs, you drink, you watch more Friends episodes than you read books and take an overtly laissez faire attitude to your degree in the knowledge that nothing you do in the first year really counts anyway.
Which is why, in response to mounting debt and impossible dreams of ever getting a foot on the property ladder, two year degrees are being proposed in a new report backed by former Conservative and Labour Cabinet ministers Owen Paterson and Lord Adonis along with vice-chancellor and education pioneer, Sir Anthony Seldon.
With student debt projected to reach a staggering £1 trillion in a generation the proposals are aimed at tackling a ticking timebomb that is making British students among the most indebted in the world. So indebted, in fact, that by 2040 accumulated debts are forecast to reach 11.5 per cent of national output, representing a huge liability for future taxpayers.
So why not do the only thing that the Conservatives really know; cut.
According to the report nearly half of the students surveyed were interested in two-year degrees, which would reduce debt levels by up to £20,000 for the average student. Courses would be far more intensive in contrast to the current regime in which students receive just 11 hours of teaching contact time a week and are engaged in academic study for only 23 weeks a year.
It would also remove that wasteful, debauched first year where students do little more than lounge about and waste away while depositing their loan cheques in the local Bargain Booze or student union. Except, as most students will tell you, that’s only half the story, and your first year at university is among the most important for you as a student and as a human being.
Record student dissatisfaction
In such a climate, it is no surprise that record student dissatisfaction prevails. Polling for Timebomb of current students at English universities found that when asked to rate the overall value for money of their university on a scale of one to ten, fewer than three in ten (29 per cent) were prepared to give a score of more than seven.
As one student told Timebomb, they are paying “a lot of money for some PowerPoint slides”.
The report, although highlighting several very important issues, also misses the point that many people will still be priced out of further education, even at a two-year cut price. As the Labour Party highlighted in their 2017 manifesto last year saw the steepest fall in university applications for 30 years thanks to a trebling of tuition fees. So even if we can make university a tad more palatable by cutting the fat, it doesn’t make it affordable.
Where the government can help, if not from a financial perspective, is dealing with the cartel of people running our higher ed institutions. As the report notes, students promised a better experience by the increase in tuition fees are being sold a lie, with the biggest beneficiaries of the hike in tuition fees and student debt being vice-chancellors, whose pay packets now average £278,000 – nearly double what the Prime Minister receives.
Vice-chancellors and the senior managerial elite of universities have acted as a cartel, all jumping at once to impose the maximum amount of tuition fees, regardless of their institutions’ performance. When this is combined with their efforts to block or delay the applications of more innovative, private institutions to award their own degrees, the report says that it is clear that the powerful cartel of public universities occupy a monopolistic position that should be broken up.
Richard Tice, Timebomb’s author and a property entrepreneur, said: “This report was triggered by the concerns expressed by numerous friends, who are parents of university students and complained about the poor value for money offered by university education.
“Investigating the truth behind these stories has shocked me, the powerful university cartel interwoven with parts of the Establishment care lots about money and little about students.
“Timebomb combines our central recommendation of the expansion of two-year degrees to improve value for money for students, parents and the taxpayer as well as making a positive contribution in solving the nation’s housing shortage.”