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Well, the previous post inspired some interesting discussion, as did [livejournal.com profile] andrewducker's related poll. [livejournal.com profile] ahnlak asked for the source of some of the figures that I'd quoted, and this got me looking. I'd wanted to be able to give some more detailed figures initially, but was surprised (given the current funding debate) that they weren't that easy to find.

Using the data on the number of graduating students from the Higher Education Statistics Agency and population demographic data from Office of National Statistics, I put together the following table:

Graduating UK domiciled FT students (first degree) by year
YearStudents21 year olds% of 21 year olds

Sources: HESA qualifications obtained, ONS population pyramid

There are several assumptions in these figures:

  • I only consider full-time students graduating from their first degree. This is what people typically think of when they think of university students, and full-time students greatly outnumber part-time.
  • HESA don't publish enrolment figures, only graduation, so this underestimates participation by assuming that no students drop out. That said, the drop out rate should be largely constant.
  • In order to map graduate numbers onto the total population, I've assumed that students all enrol at age 18 and graduate at age 21. Given that the UK population is growing, that bachelors degrees are a minimum of three years, and that the majority of students enrol at age 18 or older, this systematically underestimates participation.

There are some interesting observations that we can make from this data (and the supporting data in the sources above):

  • The number of UK part-time students is typically less than 12% of the total number of UK students each year, and the proportion remains roughly constant.
  • Over the period from 1994/1995 to 2008/2009, the proportion of full-time overseas and EU students (compared to the total number of full-time students) studying for a first degree increased from 8% to 15%. This is a direct consequence of the reduction in per capita funding for UK students (see below), and is the main reason that UK universities survived the expansion of the 1980s and 1990s.
  • The number of full-time UK students graduating with a first degree from a UK university increased by roughly 25% between 1997 and 2008. However, the proportion of graduating 21 year olds has stayed roughly constant at 30+/-1%

Of course, after I'd put together these figures, I then found that BIS (as DIUS) had published the data I'd wanted in a report (DIUS SFR02/2009) on a corner of the DCSF website. Not where I would have looked, and probably not where the report will be after the new lot finish obliterating all traces of the old lot. If you want to take a copy of the report (here) do it now before it disappears.

This report estimates participation differently; it takes enrolment rather than graduation (the Higher Education Initial Participation Rate), and does not make the simplifying assumptions about the ages of students that I do. Consequently, my figures systematically overestimate the population who could become students, and underestimate the population who are students (in part because I only look at FT students).

On the other hand, my intuitions about retention and drop-out are broadly correct; the drop-out rate remains static at roughly 8+/-1% over the period 1999/2000-2006/2007.

The report gives FT HEIPRs that vary as follows:


Not a great deal of variation, I think you'll agree. The HEIPR for FT/PT combined - which is what New Labour wanted to rise to 50% - stayed in the 39-42% region in the same period. Hardly the increase that we're being lead to believe by our new masters, or that is being raised as a justification for cuts on certain right-of-centre on-line forums. The big increase in student numbers happened between 1980 and 1997, not under New Labour (various sources, including Gombrich and Greenaway and Haynes [mirror] - and you can just see the tail end of this expansion in the first table above).

The current debate on HE funding and the nigh-inevitability of cuts assumes that there are gross savings to be had. The problem with this is that the big expansion in the 1980s and 1990s was largely unfunded; student numbers went up and total funding stayed the same, or to put it a different way, per capita student funding went down. This post-1980 expansion was bankrolled by the increase in overseas students noted above. Greenaway and Haynes (p. F152) give a drop of 50% in real terms per capita funding during 1980-1999, while this briefing by Universities UK to the House of Lords (para 4 in the PDF) tells a similar story for 1989-2010, but then goes on to note that i) our spending on HE as a percentage of GDP is less than the OECD average (1.3% compared to an average of 1.5%) and ii) more than £1 billion had already (as of February 2010) been cut from spending on HE committed in the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review. The new government added an extra £200 million to that, and now we're being told to prepare for cuts of up to 25%.

If UK HE survives this, whatever is left will be unrecognisable.

Deja vu

Jul. 15th, 2010 12:34 pm
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So, Vince Cable is proposing a graduate tax. Haven't we been here before?

It's been a while since I posted about HE funding (posts passim), but it's worth repeating some of the highlights:

  • Back in 1997, the Dearing Report recommended that because "those with higher education qualifications are the main beneficiaries [of higher education], through improved employment prospects and pay", "graduates in work should make a greater contribution to the costs of higher education in future". The report goes on to recommend an income contingent scheme along the lines of the Australian Higher Education Contribution Scheme.
  • Richard Gombrich's article from 2000 is still worth reading, and an indication of what HE is likely to suffer in the lifetime of this government.
  • Roy Hattersley was generally right in 2002, and he's still generally right now.
  • The then Education Secretary Charles Clarke heavily hinted at a graduate tax back in 2003. It didn't happen. Instead, we got top-up fees by a vote of 316:311.
  • A graduate tax will not be hypothecated, therefore Universities UK will not support it.
  • A graduate tax will take over forty years to reach steady state (being the period between graduation and retirement), but HE will continue to require support from other sources during this period. Ignore this at your peril.
  • David Willetts is wrong. Before he starts calling for us to "give more value to students and taxpayers", he should be aware that per-capita tertiary funding fell by 50% over the twenty years to 2000. During the same period, staff:student ratios fell from 1:9 to 1:17 (or 1:23 if research funding is excluded). The increase in funding under the last government did not substantially correct this. How much more value does he think there is to give?

I could say more, but not without repeating things that I've said over the past decade.

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From here, summarising BIS contributions to the announced GBP6Bn cuts package:

£18 million by stopping low priority projects like the Semantic web and the SME Adjudicator

That's either data.gov.uk or the funding for the Web Science Institute scuppered (or possibly both), then.

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This morning, it was Isobel's turn to wake up shouting at the radio. UCU have agreed to put UCEA's offer of 13.1% to their membership (and not, as the BBC put it, agreed to the increase - learn how a democratic union operates!), so the industrial action will be suspended for the duration of the balloting procedure. I can't say that I'm happy with this offer, and will probably vote against accepting it.

[livejournal.com profile] surliminal can now look slightly smug for having been able to prepare for her marking. My role in assessment this year has been mainly limited to third year project vivas (which were all rescheduled for tomorrow and Friday, so I'll now be taking part), fourth year research project reports (with a marking deadline of next week) and my half of the second year databases course (for which I've yet to receive the scripts). I predict a very busy few days.

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While buying a round of tea in the Students' Union this lunchtime, I noticed that the chap standing next to me was wearing a t-shirt which read:

Students Against Lecture Strike Action - salsa.susu.org

This makes no sense on a number of counts:

  • There is no "Lecture Strike Action", because teaching is proceeding as usual.
  • If they're referring to people with teaching duties, they should be aware that these are called "lecturers". As an aside, if the students can't distinguish between "lecturers" and "lectures", we're doing something seriously wrong.
  • This industrial action is not limited to lecturers, but to all members of AUT and NATFHE, a group which includes research and academic-related staff: librarians, administrative staff, system support staff, and so on
  • The strike action (meaning complete withdrawal of labour) was limited to a single day in March. They're complaining about what AUT/NATFHE distinguishes as "action short of a strike".

The URI doesn't point at anything in particular, redirecting to the SU homepage.

Being a mild-mannered academic, I of course said nothing.

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Damn. Bad law. UK HE will rue this day.

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Bumped into our head of school (and my former PhD supervisor) during lunch today and asked for her opinions on the likely outcome to the school of tonight's debate, specifically the effects on student demographics. Her response was that the school is already planning to reduce the number of UK undergraduates and increase the number from overseas (predominantly non-EU), and that this was a fairly common move across the University.

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One of the mailing lists that I read has had a discussion on the government's proposals for the introduction of differential tuition fees in higher education that has been raging for the last week and a half. During the course of this, someone asked the question: "how has the government been able to pay for university fees for so many years and it's only now when "we're putting more into education" that they can't?"

I was a little taken aback by this, and so wrote the following response.

Read more... )

Today's Grauniad carried a letter which put this point more succinctly, if also more brutally. (reproduced below to defend against the future vagaries of the Guardian's website)

Hurrah for the increase to £20,000 in annual earnings before repayment of student fees kicks in. It has taken me a first-class degree, a prestigious PhD studentship to Oxbridge, a Medical Research Council fellowship, an academic appointment to a Russell Group university, followed by a highly competitive research grant and a move to an elite London establishment, to reach that princely sum.
The risible state of university finances is why I and my colleagues will be sticking up two fingers to junior common room protests. When Tarquin and Jemima bugger off to the City to earn in one year what takes me 10 or more, will they be prepared to pay a 50% tax rate for higher education? I don't think so. The rest of you, go and do the maths. The poor pay nothing, the rest a 1% increase in lifetime tax burden. Who pays for the current shambles? I do.
Name and address supplied
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According to today's Guardian, Charles Clarke, the education secretary, has attacked the principle of public funding for "ornamental" HE disciplines such as medieval studies (having already said much the same about classics) on the grounds "that universities exist to enable the British economy and society to deal with the challenges posed by the increasingly rapid process of global change". So farewell to learning for learning's sake, hello to more vocational courses (and dare I say it, Mickey Mouse degrees, as Margaret Hodge would term them).

(the Times Higher broke the story, while Tristram Hunt has a good comment piece in the Guardian)

So [livejournal.com profile] ias, my little ornament, I'm sure you're dying to rant on this...

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The Independent is reporting that the government is to put an extra £1.5Bn into academic salaries. Notable quotes:

At Labour's National Policy Forum on 1 December, [Tony Blair] said university lecturers were "probably the worst-paid workers in the public sector".
He said their pay had only increased by five per cent in the past 20 years whereas the figure for the rest of the economy was 45 per cent.

The article goes on to note that this might mean pay rises of up to 18%, though doesn't attribute this figure.

2 + 2 = 5

Nov. 26th, 2002 11:29 am
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More coverage of the top-up fees issue in today's Grauniad, which analyses the DfES's claim of a lifetime salary premium of £400,000 enjoyed by graduates (or to put it a different way, a £10,000 salary premium for each year of your forty year working life) and finds it rather wanting. Of particular note is the comment (from an academic at Essex) that "graduates only maintain their premium if they work in a field where their skills are in short supply". Still think that the graduate premium will be £400,000 when 50% of young people end up at University?

In other news, the BBC is reporting that a Commons report is critical of UK HE for its use of short term contracts in research. Hardly a surprise, given that the Bett report said exactly the same thing, but it's good to see that the issue is being kept in the media.

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Good comment piece by Roy Hattersley in today's Grauniad on ways of solving the funding crisis in UK higher education without recourse to the £6000+ tuition fees that various universities are threatening (Imperial College and Warwick, my first university, being the chief culprits). Hattersley, as sensible as ever (shame he's not still on the front benches), advocates a graduate tax as a progressive source of funding that properly reflects the advantage that a degree confers on a graduate, unlike the fees-and-loans fiasco, and goes so far as to say that such a tax should be "levied on all graduates, not just those who take their degrees after this year" and that "it will be possible to limit it to comparatively high earnings". If only...

For those of you who haven't exiled yourselves to the UK HE gulag, this article by Richard Gombrich gives a good summary of the current state of UK HE (and its decline and fall over the last four decades) which pulls very few punches. The statistics on HE funding (particularly for resources like libraries) and pay are particularly sobering.

Other relevant reading includes the Dearing Report on Higher Eduction in the Learning Society - of particular note are the sections on increasing student maintenance (ie. grants) and HE pay and graduate taxation as a source of funding. The Bett Report (on the Independent Review of Higher Education Pay and Conditions, and a snip at £80 from HMSO - summary available elsewhere, with contemporary coverage from the BBC) made a number of recommendations on HE pay and funding, most of which have been duly ignored. The BBC has good general coverage on the issue, as always.


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Nick Gibbins

August 2010

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