US overspends on universities?

Amusing snippet in the Chronicle

Economist Says U.S. Spends Too Much on Higher Education

A paper released today by Richard K. Vedder, a professor of economics at Ohio University…says that most incremental appropriations to higher education lead to higher spending rather than lower tuition, and new funds often go to non-instructional purposes, such as administrative salaries, student services, fancy recreation facilities, intercollegiate athletics, and research.

Even richer pickings in the paper itself:

What might be some useful reforms? Emulate competitive market practices by increasing incentives for college decision-makers to reduce costs, for example by giving bonuses for cost savings. Tie presidential compensation to indicators both of qualitative improvements and tuition cost restraints. Numerous potential cost-savings come to mind. The central administration should rent buildings to departments to encourage more efficiency, including year-round use. Slash administrative staffs. Increase teaching loads. Eliminate low enrollment and costly graduate programs. Get out of non-instructional businesses like housing,food,and building maintenance.

And so on. Entertaining stuff. But, if the administration has been slashed who is going to rent out the buildings?

Fees: “Almost impossible to understand”

According to a piece in the Guardian.

Some students have been put off applying because the funding system is now among the most complex in the world, says the report by the consultancy London Economics, commissioned by Million+, a group representing former polytechnic universities previously known as the Coalition of Modern Universities. “The combination of differential fees, fee loans, maintenance loans, fee grants, maintenance grants, bursaries and the education maintenance allowance make the entire package almost impossible to understand,” it says.


Even if it is accepted that the system is complicated, it clearly cannot be so incredibly difficult otherwise no-one would actually be entering HE. And part of the deal over fees remains that institutions have a mission to explain. Universities have to tell applicants about the costs but also about the bursaries and grants available to them.

Numbers entering HE continue to rise so clearly some are understanding what is going on. As for the impact on widening participation, it is not clear that students from non-traditional or lower family income backgrounds are being deterred. Moreover, the argument has been that it is fear of debt (misplaced) rather than complexity which is acting as a deterrent. Can it be both?

And anyway, shouldn’t the brightest graduates of tomorrow have the core numeracy skills required to understand a system of fees, grants, loans and bursaries?

The report itself is available here and it is clearly a little more measured than the press release which prompted this story, highlighting the need for whole system review rather than piecemeal change but also the complications caused by the differences across countries within the UK.

(And as for the entertaining rebranding of CMU as Million+, see the Mortarboard for details.)

2007 World Rankings: UK improvements

The detail of the QS-Thes table is due to be available on-line from 9 November according to THES.

While we wait, the QS site will let you download the table.

And the BBC carries the story too.

19 UK universities appear in the top 100:

    2= Cambridge
    3= Oxford
    5 Imperial College
    9 University College London
    23 Edinburgh
    24 King’s London
    30 Manchester
    37 Bristol
    57 Warwick
    59 London School of Economics
    65 Birmingham
    68 Sheffield
    70 Nottingham
    74 York
    76 St Andrews
    80= Leeds
    80= Southampton
    83 Glasgow
    99 Cardiff

Almost all of these universities improved their position on last year. So, either UK universities are getting a whole lot better against the competition or there is an outside chance the table has developed in our favour.

Surrey catches on

According to the BBC website, Surrey is aiming to emulate the University of Nottingham’s internationalisation achievements in China and Malaysia. The Guardian also carries the story.


The University of Surrey wants to offer degrees in which students might move each year between partner universities in three countries. This could include universities in the US, China and elsewhere in Asia. The partnership will create undergraduate and postgraduate courses in management, computing and entrepreneurship – with the aim of allowing Chinese students to study in Guildford and for UK students to spend part of the course at Dongbei. Courses in China will be taught in English and will replicate those taught at the University of Surrey.

It’s a good pitch and well articulated. The fact that others are following suit helps to reinforce the value of what the University of Nottingham is doing.

Tories take new line on Students’ Unions

Follow up to earlier post on Willetts speech.

After his widely reported statements on fees, David Willetts also commented (generally not noticed by the press) on Students’ Unions:

“We value student unions. We salute them and what they achieve for and on behalf of students. Without them, universities would be much poorer institutions, as would the employers, causes and political parties who take on their alumni.”

Bit of a change there then. Perhaps he is fortunate that most SU members of today don’t remember the introduction of the 1994 Education Act or the then government’s (ultimately unsuccessful) efforts prior to that date to require voluntary opt-in membership for these now hugely valued bodies.

New Conservative position on fees?

Which seems to be: neither higher nor lower, we should neither raise nor lower the cap

According to a Guardian report on a recent speech:

The Conservatives today called for the review of tuition fees planned for 2009 to start now to allow for enough preparation time. The government has promised a review of the increased tuition fees regime in two years. But, in a speech at Sheffield University, shadow universities secretary David Willetts said: “A proper review takes time. We do not need to make a decision any sooner than the government suggests – but why waste this two years which could be spent collecting data, talking to people, or analysing what is happening?

“We are not calling for the cap to be lifted and we are not calling for it to be lowered. Nobody knows enough about tuition fees and their impact to make any decisions at all on this issue,” he said.

Suggesting that a review be brought forward a bit does not appear to represent a bold new position.

Moreover, we need more information:

Mr Willetts also urged universities to give students and their parents more information about contact hours, class sizes and employability before they start courses. “Students and their parents are not simply concerned about the cost of higher education. They care about quality. Students now regard themselves as customers, and they want to know that they are investing in the right student experience. He claimed the national student survey was being manipulated by universities and called for a national student experience website to pull together information on research ratings, drop-out rates, library facilities and university estates, as well as contact hours, class sizes and employability.

Sounds a bit like a combination of the Sunday Times League Table and the data recently produced by HEPI – see earlier post on this topic. And isn’t this what the new (as yet unlaunched) Unistats site is largely intended to address?