Groundbreaking economic finding during higher education policy development?

Today’s Guardian carries a piece entitled Plans for tuition fees in disarray, ministers say. There is concern that many universities are planning to charge students fees of more than £6,000, which means that the average of £7,500 for which the Government had budgeted is looking inadequate.  The implications for public spending are considerable. The piece contains the following observation:

Privately, ministers admit they have become victim of the so-called Giffen good, an economic theory in which people consume more as the price rises.

This statement is a worry. It certainly lends support to the argument that a little knowledge is dangerous. If higher education were a Giffen good then that would be a groundbreaking finding in economics. It would be surprising: not least because no one seems to have spotted it before. Read more of this post

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(Mis)diagnosing the problem with access to HE

I tend not to write about policy on higher education, for a range of reasons. But the more I hear about the proposals surrounding the new regime for tuition fees the more problematic I feel they could be. Actually, it isn’t so much the proposals themselves, but it is some of the policy narrative that goes with them. The Government is planning to impose conditions relating to widening participation on any university that wishes to charge more than £6,000. Adherence to those conditions will be subject to annual monitoring. Quite what happens if the conditions are not met isn’t yet clear, but that isn’t the point I have been chewing over.

It is clear that access to higher education is skewed. The statistics are clear – those attending the best state schools and, particularly, private schools are much more likely to attend the better universities. Access to elite Oxbridge institutions is heavily circumscribed. Today I heard senior Ministers invoke a new, more evocative, version of the same story – that more students from Eton went to Oxford last year than from the entire – very large – group of students who receive free school meals.

No one can sensibly deny the broad picture painted by the statistics. But what is the nature of the problem? It is here I think things are rather less clear. At the very least, a very simplistic story currently seems to be dominating. Read more of this post