DEBATE: With some institutions at risk of bankruptcy, does the UK have too many universities?

Hot Weather Continues Throughout The UK
Jobs that never required degrees now do (Source: Getty)

With some institutions at risk of bankruptcy, does the UK have too many universities?

Benedict Spence, a freelance writer, says YES.

Britain prides itself on its universities for their heritage, academic progress, and economic importance.

But undergraduate applications dropped two per cent last year, student debt is rising, and whispers of refunds are starting to emerge. There are now so many graduates that degrees are devalued; jobs that never required them now do. If students are pursuing employment rather than a passion, education becomes secondary to passing exams.

This reduces standards – unchallenged students regurgitate what staff want to hear, undermining notions of independent thought. If this continues, students will look elsewhere. Why accrue debt for something that is neither enlightening nor able to open doors? The reputation of UK universities will deteriorate, and the best applicants – and academics – will dry up.

Universities used to be for expanding knowledge. The bloating of the sector has stifled learning, incurred unnecessary debt, and waylaid prospects. Competitive universities drive society forward. It’s time to defenestrate those that don’t.

Alan Lockey, head of research at Demos, says NO.

Make no mistake, our university system is a mess. Its financing model is unstable, academics are striking over pensions, and there is a crisis in student mental health.

Much work then for Baroness Wolf, who is currently leading a government review. Previously, Wolf has spoken warmly about “Fachhochschulen” – Germany’s technical universities that churn out many of the country’s brilliant engineers. We desperately need similar institutions here. Our embarrassingly snobbish attitude towards technical training is the original sin of Britain’s education system, and a driver of so much social division to boot.

But this should not mean fewer universities. With automation set to transform the labour market, we need more training, not less. And graduates can still expect to earn around £100,000 more than non-graduates throughout their lives, while universities contribute over £20bn to Britain’s economy in addition to their incalculable cultural influence. So yes, more diverse universities. But certainly not fewer.

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