This evening saw the first ICU Council of the year, where ICU has taken the decision to abandon all current policy on higher education funding and re-open the debate. A paper, proposed by DPEW Kirsty Patterson, described the idea of free education for all as unrealistic and incompatible with the government's goal of sending 50% of 18 year olds into higher education. Instead it called for a new debate, looking at how higher education could be funded by the government, students and business.
Meanwhile, in Sunday's Telegraph Sir Richard Sykes called for students to be charged higher interest on their student loans, in order to deter students from taking "Mickey Mouse" courses. The rector also called for fees to be raised from the current £3000 per year to £5000, when the payment system is reviewed in 2009. Sir Richard?s comments are seen as being in direct contrast to the government's aim of having the majority of school leavers going to university within three years, but is in line with many senior officials of the top universities, who are alarmed by the rise in the number of degree courses such as golf management and surfing, when combined with the decrease in the number of applicants for science.
"The system has to change," Sir Richard is quoted as saying in the Telegraph. "It will then make people think twice before they go off and do damn silly courses that are no good to them and won't get them a good job at the end of the day. It would mean university is not just a nice four years off."
Last November Sir Richard commented on the folly of lifting the fees cap for all universities, preferring an alternative where only the "top" universities could charge what they liked to fund bursaries for poorer students.
Currently, the government only gets back £65 for every £100 it lends to a student, due to the interest subsidy, costing the country £1.2 billion a year. The NUS said in August that debt was forcing graduates into taking the first job they were offered, and told that jobs that graduates were taking did not match their "aspirations". It could be read that some degrees are not worth as much as students thought when they chose to take them. The thought of more debt may put people off taking "Mickey Mouse" courses, but at an increased risk of turning away the next generation of science, technology and medicine graduates.