Today the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee formally called on the government to defer the plans until at least a year after the higher fees were introduced. The report from the select committee stated that the government was reforming the higher education system too fast, with “radical” measures being introduced according to a “challenging timetable” (BBC News). Further opposition is offered by students who fear that the market mechanisms will result in less staff, less teaching hours and less choice for courses (The Guardian). Unions have opposed the measures for similar reasons, fearful that competition would force drastic measures to be taken to cut costs and meet targets.
Adrian Bailey, the chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee said that the universities themselves also wanted the reforms delayed, allowing them a chance to implement the changed fee structure before further reforms were made to the admissions processes. Implementing the changes at the same time would mean universities were left unsure about the level of funding they would receive or the number of students they could admit. The report also called for further help for lower-income students, who struggle with living costs away from home. This is a damning analysis for the government, who confidently defended the plans as fair to all students, with more than adequate help for those worst off.
Concerns over fees and places have prompted twenty-seven universities to change the level of fees they plan to charge in 2012 from what they had originally announced. This is bound to create further confusion among current A-level students who are currently in the process of applying for university places for the next academic year. Universities minister David Willets admitted that the government should have addressed one issue at a time, but defended the decision due to the urgent need to address financing of universities (BBC News).
There is no solution in sight for the issue of university tuition fees and places, and there is certain to be continued opposition to the scheme until (and after) it is implemented next September. It is however hard to see how the government could change its stance on the issue now, or even why it would want to. Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have weathered the worst of the bad press and party rebellions on higher education, now it is just a case of sitting back and hoping people forget about it before the next election. This is not to say that opposition is pointless, only that it may be disappointingly futile. People should still be made aware of the counter-arguments and problems with the scheme, but the public must be realistic about the likelihood of change.