Forget tuition fees – it’s our unis’ manic obsession with growth that’s the problem

A university lecture theatre (stock image)

Want a degree in The Beatles? You can get one in Liverpool. How about surfing technology? That’ll be Plymouth. Horology in Birmingham, anyone?

No, wait, don’t overlook Bath Spa’s degree in contemporary circus and physical performance.

Count. Me. In. I’m down.

All these offerings seem to demonstrate the endless variety for academic study in Britain’s tertiary education system, wouldn’t they?

Well, no. Instead they show that just about anything can be turned into an area of academic study if there’s a shilling in it – hence the preposterous intellectualising of the Liverpool Four’s output.

And it’s that shilling which has become the fuel of the universities’ engine rather than the desire to usefully educate.

Prime Minister Theresa May

It also explains why Prime Minister Theresa May has suddenly come to her senses and pointed out that forking out more than nine grand a year for a worthless degree does nothing more than create debt and postpone entry into real life.

The problem the PM will face is that the unis will not want to see their empires dwindle, their access to cash limited or their frenzy for growth held in check.

Just look at Canterbury in the last two decades. We’ve witnessed such rapid expansion of our big two – Christ Church and Kent – that it has utterly transformed the city.

It’s not all bad. But neither is it all good.

Yes the unis create jobs, yes they bring money into the area, yes they lend the city an air of youthfulness and vibrancy.

But there is, as ever, a price to pay. Many people in Canterbury are openly worried about how big the universities have become.

And they have something genuine to fear when all they hear from the unis themselves is that they are determined to expand yet further.

Kent vice-chancellor Karen Cox

Karen Cox became the University of Kent’s vice-chancellor last summer stated that she wished to see it “develop and grow”. Kent has talked about building a hotel on the green gap between the university and the St Michael’s area of the city.

Sorry, what’s a hotel got to do with teaching people things unless they’re on a work placement to learn how to cook duck a l’orange or fondue?

No, I’m sorry, such proposals are tantamount to nothing more than naked empire building. They serve no one but the universities themselves.

There is a campaign to protect that green gap, known as Chaucer Fields. There is also an effort to stop the university expanding into the woodland on its Blean side.

Christ Church, too, now occupies vast portions of central Canterbury now it is no longer a humble teaching college.

We even had the bizarre situation where it had the gall to complain that there would be too much purpose-built student accommodation if a private scheme for rooms on the old St Mary Bredin School site on the ring road were allowed to go ahead. Translation: this scheme’s not run by us therefore we don’t like it.


So here’s a thought. Let’s cease the relentless expansion, reduce but don’t scrap tuition fees and restore the focus to proper academic inquiry rather studying the music of John, Paul, George and Ringo.


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