This post follows on from my musings on the costs of education and training. It looks at the issue of alumni relations – relationships between institutions and their past members. I’ve titled this post as such because a number of readers of this blog will, like myself have had some sort of experience with higher education. (Accordingly, they may also be familiar with the mailings from their former universities’ alumni offices asking for money).
How did we get to here?
The cohort of students I was in was the second year of the original ‘up front’ university tuition fees – a policy that for me was a piece of political cowardice by Tony Blair’s administration as it was for John Major’s administration because the Dearing Inquiry that brought in the era of fees was commissioned in the middle of 1996 – reporting back a couple of months after New Labour’s landslide victory in 1997. Those that don’t learn from their history are cursed to … exactly. (See here for ‘who should pay?‘).
Did Labour’s 1997 manifesto say anything about up front fees? Scroll down to “Higher Education”. Did the Conservative manifesto for 1997 say anything about up front fees? Scroll down to “Lifetime Learning.”
Labour’s 2001 manifesto said “We will not introduce ‘top up fees’ and have legislated to prevent them”. Ooops. Labour went and passed the Higher Education Act 2004 of which Section 26 (2)(b)(ii) gave powers to ministers to bring in higher fees through a statutory instrument rather than through primary legislation. This piece of legislation cost Labour’s former MP for Cambridge Anne Campbell her seat in Parliament in the 2005 general election. When the Browne Review (that Labour set up) reported back just after the 2010 general election, it should have come as no surprise that a Conservative-led coalition would bring in higher fees using powers under that Act – which they did through the Higher Education (Higher Amount) (England) Regulations 2010.
This timeline shows that the principle of university tuition fees was avoided completely by Labour and the Conservatives in 1997 in the same way that the principle of significantly higher fees was also avoided in 2010 by ensuring that an ‘independent review’ would report just after a general election to enable whoever took power could drive through an inevitably unpopular policy early on – far away from the next general election.
My issue in this and in previous blogposts takes aim primarily at the flawed processes of policy-making. This in my view is an example of very bad policy-making processes – but very smart politicking if you are a senior politician wanting to impose a very unpopular policy. It’s been this sort of politicking that has given the senior politicians of today a reputation that quite frankly they deserve. Combine this sort of behaviour, too close a relationship with big business and the corporate media, along with the expenses scandal and you have the implosion of politics that we see today.
What’s this got to do with fees, university and philanthropy? The universities will have to pick up the pieces.
There’s part of me which would have loved to have had a life-long ‘relationship’ with an institution that I had been a student of. One where the people who make up the institution don’t treat you as just another number when you are in the institution and a potential cash cow once you’ve left it. But that’s not going to happen with me. The only institution that I have any sort of affinity to as far as my educational days are concerned is primary school. My final year at secondary school was spent with what felt like a large proportion of that cohort wanting to leave for pastures new (in various directions) as soon as possible. Since leaving, the school has been flattened and rebuilt almost from scratch – i.e. the physical building that was once my secondary school no longer exists.
Two years at a high profile state sixth form college that was as large and as intense as Hills Road Sixth Form College, was never going to be a long enough time period for it to be able to build any sense of ‘loyalty’ from its former students, a number of whom are from affluent backgrounds and many of whom go onto Oxford or Cambridge. (Does anyone have data on the state/private split on Hills Road’s intake?) Has it and other sixth form/further education colleges managed to overcome that hurdle? Feel free to comment.
This then brings me onto universities. The bringing in of fees affected my mindset in terms of my relationship with the university – and I remember giving my personal tutor a hard time over it at the end of my first year. In a nutshell I said that I spent most of the first year covering the stuff I had done during my A-Levels and didn’t feel that I had got ‘value for money’ (a concept that we were taught as being a fundamental pillar to the economics degree I was studying for) for both the fees and my overall expenditure. Things barely improved value-for-money-wise in the second and third years in terms of my university experience. Although ticking all of the boxes of higher education – upper second in a ‘respectable’ (as far as employers are concerned) subject from a redbrick university, I’ve not set foot in the university since and have no intention of doing so either. Which is incredibly sad. They still send me alumni stuff, but they’re not getting any money – not that I have any money to give.
What’s even more sad is that I’m continuing to meet more and more people who have graduated from university with similar feelings.
I cannot imagine what will be going through the minds of those students having to pay the full £9,000 fees and having the experience that I had. The fallacy of the mindset those pushing for the ‘marketisation’ of higher education (and trying to harness market forces) is that paying for a university education is not like paying for an apple at a market, or buying a gadget at the shop. Researching for a university and a course is incredibly time-intensive, made all the more confusing by the sheer range of both information and misinformation. You can’t ‘take it back’ with university in the way you can with a consumable. Dropping out of university is a massive decision to take for those who feel that they have made the wrong decision due to the upheaval and complications it leads to. A challenge for both universities and the political establishment is what happens if the number of extremely disgruntled students and graduates reaches a critical mass.
For the rest, the delivery of a university education in return for the fees (or the debt) from the mindset of ‘marketisation of education’ is a straight forward transaction. Once you’ve paid for what you’ve received, why give them any more? Do you give more money to the electronics giants because you particularly like your new gadget?
What will significantly higher fees mean for alumni relations? How are universities dealing with the first cohorts of graduates that graduated under the original ‘top up’ fees regime? Does this provide an insight into what may happen in the future?
Under the ‘higher fees’ regime, will graduates take the view that they’ve already paid fees and taken on a significant burden that they see no need to contribute any further? (Especially bearing in mind the devastating picture for young people’s job prospects that at present seems unlikely to change in the short to medium term). Will alumni offices have to look elsewhere for additional funds for universities – and if so, where?
In terms of inviting comments, as well as from those who’ve graduated, I’m genuinely interested in the insights of those studying at university, those about to head into the cauldron of the higher fees regime and those who work at universities who will be the first to feel the impact of all of this – if they’ve not felt it already.