Hastings Uni closing: A sad Consequence of marketing education and higher fees?
Hastings University closing: A sad Consequence of marketing education and higher fees?
I remember on a drizzly weekend day walking from Hastings College to the town centre with students, local councillors and the late Jeremy Birch to protest about tuition fees being increased to £9,000 (Rafter: 2016). I also remember being amazed at how many students turned out to talk and listen about an issue that would change education for a generation. The feeling of that day was that people were angry, felt betrayed and strongly voiced negative consequences of tuition fees.
There were accusations at the time students were just protesting because of self-interest, not wanting the increased debt levels. I remember the local MP, now the Home Office Secretary of state Rt. Hon Amber Rudd, suggesting the only issue students were engaging with politically was tuition fees, an issue that only affected them. True at the time students were angry, however there was anger for much greater reasons than ourselves. The greater reason for our protests then were we felt the marketization of education, combined with higher fees would kill off higher education for some younger people from poorer backgrounds. This sense of injustice, anxiety and negative policy consequences drove student indignation, not just higher debt levels.
Picture obtained via BBC News Website 24/11/2010: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11830813
Students in Hastings were right to question to marketization of education for these five reasons.
Firstly, the claims the free market would bring choice, powerful student voices, more control over education for students, better services and investment have proved to be false for Hastings. This ultimately has proven to be wrong because the increased competition, due to the rise in fees, has resulted in universities taking more purely financial decisions. Financial decisions are not always in the best interests of the students. This is most exemplified with the case of Hastings, where the university has been deliberately vague over its position in what courses and where these courses will be on offer. For example the review has been ongoing for two years, but only has been known for two months by officials, and about a month by students. The way management have answered questions; arrived to meetings late, left early, removed halls of residence and generally not communicated with students on this issue, until the very last minute, again highlights the issue of markestisation of education.
Secondly, the issue of market failures is apparent. If you are unhappy with your education you cannot get a refund, you lose a year of education and if you relocate and you cannot easily change service providers. Not to mention the debt you incur by changing providers. Could you imagine buying a car with these conditions attached? This is the opposite of how a market should work, education clearly does not work within a free market structure. How Students have been treated and kept in the dark about the planned closure of the university makes this point even more apparent as markets should have be transparent and provide customers with a real choice.
Thirdly, debt is not sustainable or empowering for students: Debt has effectively made students less powerful as the huge amount of debt that can be racked up in a short amount of time force students to agree to what the university wants for students, not what students want for the University. Yet again this can be seen in the case of Brighton University in Hastings. It is clear students want the university to stay in the town, yet the decision can be taken without their agreement, or any consultation. In a market they could walk away, like shareholders or customers of a business, but this doesn’t work in education. In education you often have to complete a course for it to be worth anything to employers. You also build up an attachment to the university, wanting it to succeed in the future. This forces students hands to accept what the university wants as the university can move its money and course easily, where students cannot move easily. Free movement of capital, goods and services is not matched by free movement of people. This flexibility of money benefits university owners and actually disempowers students, who must stay or face the higher fine of a devalued degree. This is what will happen to Hastings university students. They have to accept the harsh terms or fear the loss of their degree, they lose every time. On top of this the debt students hold is a burden whilst it is an asset to the university. The students do not have control over their debt, it is merely assigned to them for them attending university, whilst the university is free to choose to invest it how they wish. If the university choses to invest it away from the student that has the debt into something more competitive and profitable then this will happen. The Student cannot remove their debt to another university as they do not control it, the university wins every time. Debt Disempowers students and does not achieve competition, Hastings is a practical example of this. This leads onto my 4th point.
Fourthly, Competition may help improve the market, but not student’s education. Markets can be efficient, sometimes too efficient. Markets left on their own can drive up competition and eliminate businesses that are not efficient and profitable enough. The issue with applying this to education is that it forces financial decisions, as universities that focus on education over profits will lose out, and potentially be forced out the market all together. Universities will therefore cut off areas they see as less profitable, and centralise services to more profitable areas. However, it gets worse for students, and education, because the way the tuition fees were implemented effectively inverses the market. As there was no regulation to who could charge what fees the contradiction of how to assign a value of a product in a market quickly occurred. Soon every university decided in order to remain competitive with the top universities they had to ram the prices of the Tuition fees up. Competition should help reduce costs, but the opposite has happened because education is not compatible with the free market, assigning a value to it is just one problem amongst many. Furthermore, the monopoly that institutions have over their education and the price they can assign to it can price people out of the market, these institutions now effectively control the market, and therefore education. If these institutions increasingly take financially based decisions, many students will lose out on their education, which is what has happened in Hastings. I fear this may happen in a wider scale in the future across England. In short the fee system may have improved the further education market, in the sense of making it more profitable, but has not at the same time furthered the focus on students and their education.
Finally, it won’t help opportunity, skills or improve Hastings economic future. The fee structure, making it harder for Brighton University to attract students has clearly caused disincentives. It has dis-incentivised students to access further education in Hastings, and therefore dis-incentivised the university to keep services in Hastings.
The change further education, for the reasons stated above, has caused centralisation of education services. This centralisation has moved services away from Hastings, causing the loss of skills, future skills and much needed teachers. Some students have already stated on BBC News that if the university was not here they would not have, and would have not been able, to go to university. This is dis-incentivising to people of all ages, potentially ending lifelong education in Hastings. This loss of skills will hurt productivity, the ability to attract higher wages and will diminish the ability to adapt to future economic changes, likely to be changed by newer technology. This will decrease competitiveness as new technology businesses will not invest in Hastings if we do not have the high skilled, dynamic and adaptable economy they will require to be competitive in an ever more competitive market. The higher fees implemented, causing some universities to diminish services in areas like Hastings, is part of the race to the bottom the free market ideology accidently creates. When we have a loss of skills in Hastings, we will have lower productivity, lower wages, less spending and more economic instability; causing nothing but a crisis in business confidence, investment and long term economic success.
The impact of fees in the open: Higher fees and financially based decisions are now openly being discussed, showing how education is now motivated, and how it intends to develop in the future. This was expressed with the closure of Hastings University by the vice chancellor saying, “The introduction of a new funding regime and fee structure, the lifting of controls on student numbers, pressure on recruitment of international students present profound challenges to which all universities are having to adapt" (Abbotts: 2016).I fail to see how this statement from the university doesn’t show that higher fees, markestisation and competition hasn’t created a financially based decision to take education away from less profitable areas, like Hastings, and to centralise services in more profitable areas like Brighton.
With protests from Hastings students this week it feels like we have gone full circle. We will have student’s protesting and the establishment not listening. I fear their policies will leave Hastings with less skills, technology, opportunities and economic development. I fear Hastings will be the worse off for it.
Rafter, Jack. "University of Brighton Hastings review – ‘committed to regeneration." Hastings Observer, 08 Februaury 2016. http://www.hastingsobserver.co.uk/news/local/university-of-brighton-hastings-review-committed-to-regeneration-1-7203274.
Abbotts, Robert. "Students protest over tuition fees increase." Hastings Observer, 26 November 2010. http://www.hastingsobserver.co.uk/news/local/students-protest-over-tuition-fees-increase-1-1680795.