Should tuition fees go up?

Aaron Porter (new NUS President) gave an intriguing talk at yesterday’s conference on higher education futures. He argued that student services and facilities should be fully consumer focused — utterly driven by customer satisfaction.

But the ‘core’ (as he put it) of the student experience (teaching, curriculum, assessment) should never fall prey to consumerism. The central part should be a joint venture between academics and students, with students in a vital but unavoidably junior role.

So he could maintain that students wouldn’t tolerate paying more for the same, or less, and that students will get more demanding, while retaining the view that teaching and learning should remain a cooperative endeavour.

Of course, some aspects of the student experience cover both the core and the services – such as contact hours with lecturers, or learning aids for disabled students. This is a problem, but not an insuperable one.

At the end of the session, Aaron risked a quick poll of the audience on the issue of how much (if anything) students’ contributions to the cost of their tuition in England should increase.

When a clear majority of those present voted for the option that there should be no restriction on what universities could charge (‘no cap’), he jumped down from the stage and shook his head in dismay.

The final word can be left to the President of Penn State, Graham Spanier, who reminded the conference that ‘Government regulation has never created great universities’.

Hope Vince and David are listening…

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