This post does not represent the views of my employer, or of programmes/projects I am responsible. It is available under a CC-BY license.
In his #jisc11 keynote address (will add a link to a transcript when available), Professor Eric Thomas (the Bristol Vice-Chancellor, and technically my boss) spoke intelligently and thoughtfully about the severe issues that UK institutions will face under the Browne-Willetts funding model. He cited a study at Harvard that suggested that students from lower-income backgrounds are likely to be more risk averse when it comes to taking out loans. (paper with $5 access fee, wider news story) He made it clear that the rise in fees would not generate new funds for UK institutions, who would still be operating on the same narrow margins as currently. He agreed with my analysis that the lack of predictable income streams mean that institutions will struggle to work to these margins without cutting activities and academic investment. He argued well that we are moving to a chaotic environment, which no data on which to base sensible strategic decisions. And he outlined the spectre of cuts in student numbers, widening participation premiums and research funding that may be needed to pay for the “market” (his inverted commas, not mine.) I agree with him entirely, of course. I just wish he could have mentioned these concerns at the time of the vote in parliament, rather than being one of 16 UUK board members who signed a politically influential letter describing the new fees regime as “reasonable” and as having”fundamentally important progressive elements”. And which suggested that the alternative to the higher fee model would mean a likely cut in student numbers “enormously damaging to social mobility”.
I wonder how many other VCs are currently having second thoughts?