Plans for higher education in England are disappointing

UNISON has expressed disappointment at the government’s new plans for higher education in England, outlined in the Green Paper, Fulfilling our Potential, mainly because it fails to tackle key issues such as funding, student access and increased social mobility.

In a move that UNISON believes could undermine the UK’s world class university provision, the proposals allow for the increased involvement of private firms in the sector. However, previous moves in this direction have been raising alarm bells with the National Audit Office, and a number of the new ‘for profit’ private universities have come under increasing criticism. 

One college in London was dubbed ‘cashpoint college’ and ‘the ATM’ by students who obtained loans and grants of up to £11,000 a year, yet failed to show up to learn. In September, another college was criticised over its standards of teaching by the Quality Assurance Association for Higher Education, and in February a private college had its visa licence suspended.

UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “The Green Paper proposes giving the Secretary of State powers to increase tuition fees further still, saddling poorer students with even more debt, and doing nothing to increase social mobility. The government says it wants to encourage disadvantaged students to go to university, but this aim sits uneasily with ministers’ decision to scrap university maintenance grants for lower income students in England and Wales.

“Rapid expansion of the private sector is likely to lead to more financial scandals and the misuse of taxpayers’ money. There is a greater need for transparency in the sector as unfortunately the profit motive tempts too many private companies into thinking that they can make huge profits at the expense of students and taxpayers.

“Freedom of Information requests have been used effectively by unions like UNISON to uncover poor financial management, and the huge gap between the pay of senior staff and more junior employees paid below the living wage. Exempting universities from the Freedom of Information Act would will make universities and colleges less transparent, allowing cover ups and dodgy practices to continue away from the public gaze.”