Executive Principal's Blog

University Challenge

3 November 2016

I still believe that a university education is the best choice for young people with the ability to attend a higher education institution. Three or four years of study and social life, preferably living away from home, is a real privilege and the best possible introduction to adult life. University years can and should be a fulfilling time when students can learn about their subject and themselves, making lifelong friends with others of like mind and interests.

In recent years it has become increasingly difficult to reconcile my vision of what higher education should be with some of the things that are happening in the university sector.  I recognise that much has changed since I was a student and that much of this change is down to globalisation and economic factors beyond the control of universities themselves.  Universities must now compete in international markets with many students prepared to travel to whichever country offers them the most useful and prestigious degree. These students are often prepared to pay for the privilege of being educated at our best universities too.

For students themselves, the presence of loans and the unavoidable debt that follows help ensure that university days are frequently not as carefree as they might have been in an earlier era. Who is to say definitively that this is a bad thing of course.  Financial realism may well focus the mind on study and the days of generous grants are long gone because they are simply unaffordable.

I was however saddened to read at the weekend about plans some leading British universities have to segregate student accommodation by wealth. Basically, better off students will be able to buy their way out of normal halls of residence and upgrade to a better quality accommodation provided by the university. This seems to me a disappointing development, initiated of course to attract the high fee-paying students who universities seem so desperate to recruit.  Even if we accept all of the financial pressures upon them, surely there have to be places where universities draw a line lest they lose something of their core purpose and essence?  Students from different backgrounds living together and learning about one another's lives and backgrounds seems to me to be such a line. Incidentally, I find it hard to believe that, left to their own devices, young people themselves would not rather mix with peers of all financial backgrounds rather than be categorised and housed according to their family's wealth.

Posted at 09:27 on 3 Nov 2016