of the Defence of Public Higher Education writes for the LSN website:
of groups and individuals from across the higher education sector have launched a Defence of Public Higher Education.
We are campaigning against the withdrawal of public funding from the direct support of higher education (through the block grant scheme) and its use, instead, to fund a system of loans to support a fee-based system. This new system will create unprecedented levels of debt for students, but also for future tax payers because of the uncertainties of the repayment system.
Equally important is the way that this is being done to encourage for-profit providers – essentially, large multi-national corporations, like Pearson or Apollo Group – to enter the ‘market’. In effect, these new providers will be oriented to shareholder value and not to the public benefits that universities currently provide, to students, to the wider public and to the communities in which universities are based. The new student loan system represents a public subsidy for these new providers to make a profit.
In effect, our current system of public higher education, which has a world-wide reputation for its quality and provides excellent value for money, is to be subjected to a dangerous and destabilising political ‘fix’ despite there being no evidence that it is broken.
The new system will also have differential fees – currently between £6000 - £9000 (although, it should be anticipated that the £9000 fee cap will be lifted in the future, as recommended by the Browne Report) – where the same course will be charged at different rates according to the ‘status’ of the university offering it and its ability to get away with a higher fee.
The expectation is that students from poorer backgrounds will be more likely to be put off from applying to university because of the high cost, and even more likely to avoid the higher debt they face at more elite universities (at the same time, they are more likely to want to save costs by studying closer to home, where the local university may be one of those receiving fewer resources because of charging lower fees).
The Government wants to ensure that students with better A-level scores (AAB+) go to the elite universities. But, as research shows, while better resourced privately educated school pupils do better at A-levels than their stated-educated counterparts, they do worse when they get to university. As the Sutton Trust
comments: “Comprehensive school pupils also performed better than their similarly qualified independent and grammar school counterparts in degrees from the most academically selective universities and across all degree classes, awarded to graduates in 2009.”
This will create a new system of socially elite universities that parallels the structure of secondary education, divided between state-funded and private education with the paid-for advantages of the latter now continued into higher education.
from the Office of Fair Access  has shown that 23 English universities (among them Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, UCL and Bristol) have failed to meet their targets.
It is time for it to be widely understood that public education works – whether in secondary schools or universities. Perhaps it is its very success that creates such a hostile response from a ‘top’ that would otherwise be ‘squeezed’ by that success and is using all its resources to fight for its own interests against the interest of a wider public?"