Student Choice in Higher Education—Reducing or Reproducing Social Inequalities?
2. Emergence of The Rationale for Greater Student Choice And Marketization of HE
2.1. The 1997 Dearing Report
“recommendations on how the purposes, shape, structure, size and funding of higher education, including support for students, should develop to meet the needs of the United Kingdom over the next 20 years”.
“increasing participation in higher education is a necessary and desirable objective of national policy over the next 20 years. This must be accompanied by the objective of reducing the disparities in participation in higher education between groups and ensuring that higher education is responsive to the aspirations and distinctive abilities of individuals”.
“There have been important changes since Robbins in the nature of the relationship between government and those who receive public funds. There have been moves towards the stronger interplay of market forces, in order to increase competition between providers and thereby encourage efficiency, and an emphasis on standards and accountability. These general trends have been reflected in higher education through the introduction of new funding methodologies, new approaches to quality assurance and an emerging focus on the ‘consumer’ rather than the ‘provider’. Although the emphasis and the mechanisms may change over time, we expect there to be a continuing concern to promote efficiency, informed choice, quality and accountability over the next twenty years.”
2.2. The 1998 Labour Government Reforms
“The Act puts in place new funding arrangements for higher education designed to address the funding crisis we inherited. It modernises student support in higher education in a way that is fair to individual students and their families. Savings from the new arrangements will be used to improve quality, standards and opportunities for all in further and higher education”.
“The new system of student support balances the contributions made by individuals and the community as a whole. It is more progressive than in the past, and it directs resources to those who need them most. Critically, it secures an income stream for higher education of fee contributions and loan repayments, which underpins expansion and the widening of opportunities”.
2.3. The 2003 White Paper and the 2004 Higher Education Act
“….in an era when students are being asked to contribute more to the costs of their tuition, to reflect the benefits it brings them, their expectations of teaching quality will rise. The Government believes that student choice will be an increasingly important driver of teaching quality, as students choose the good-quality courses that will bring them respected and valuable qualifications and give them the higher-level skills that they will need during their working life.”
“Our system is not good enough at offering students real choice about how they learn. Higher education should be a choice open to everyone with the potential to benefit—including older people in the workforce who want to update their skills. There are not enough choices for flexible study—including part-time courses, sandwich courses, distance learning, and e-learning—and there must be an increasingly rich variety of subjects to study, which keep pace with changes in society and the economy.”
2.4. The 2010 Browne Report
“What we recommend is a radical departure from the existing way in which HEIs are financed. Rather than the Government providing a block grant for teaching to HEIs, their finance now follows the student who has chosen and been admitted to study. Choice is in the hands of the student”.
“Students will control a much larger proportion of the investment in higher education. They will decide where the funding should go; and institutions will compete to get it. As students will be paying more than in the current system, they will demand more in return”.
“the same upfront support for the costs of learning is extended to part time students as well. Higher education will be free at the point of entry for all students, regardless of the mode of study, giving them more choice about how they choose to study—and where”.
“Part time students should be treated the same as full time students for the costs of learning. The current system requires part time students to pay upfront. This puts people off from studying part time and it stops innovation in courses that combine work and study. In our proposal the upfront costs for part time students will be eliminated, so that a wider range of people can access higher education in a way that is convenient for them.”
2.5. The 2011 White Paper and the 2012-2013 Reforms
“Our reforms are designed to deliver a more responsive higher education sector in which funding follows the decisions of learners and successful institutions are freed to thrive; in which there is a new focus on the student experience and the quality of teaching and in which [there is]… a diverse range of higher education provision. The overall goal is higher education that is more responsive to student choice, that provides a better student experience and that helps improve social mobility…. we want to ensure that the new student finance regime supports student choice, and that in turn student choice drives competition, including on price”.
“The public money that supports higher education courses should come predominantly in the form of loans to first-time undergraduate students, to take to the institution of their choice, rather than as grants distributed by a central funding council”.
“For the first time, students starting part-time undergraduate courses in 2012/13, many of whom are from non-traditional backgrounds, will be entitled to an up-front loan to meet their tuition costs…This is a major step in terms of opening up access to higher education, and remedies a long-standing injustice in support for adult learners.”
2.6. The 2016 White Paper and the 2017 Higher Education and Research Act
“For competition in the HE sector to deliver the best possible outcomes, students must be able to make informed choices … information, particularly on price and quality, is critical if the higher education market is to perform properly. Without it, providers cannot fully and accurately advertise their offerings, and students cannot make informed decisions… With better information, students will be able to make informed choices about their higher education options and their future careers.”
“By introducing more competition and informed choice into higher education, we will deliver better outcomes and value for students, employers and the taxpayers who underwrite the system. Competition between providers in any market incentivizes them to raise their game, offering consumers a greater choice of more innovative and better quality products and services at lower cost. Higher education is no exception.”
“ensure that the education system for those aged 18 years and over is accessible to all, is supported by a funding system that provides value for money and works for students and taxpayers, incentivizes choice and competition across the sector, and encourages the development of the skills that we need”.
3. Assessment of Proponents’ Claims About The Benefits of Student Choice
3.1. Increasing and Widening Higher Education Participation
3.2. Enhanced Institutional Quality
3.3. Improved Labour Market Responsiveness
3.4. Greater Variety of Provision
4. A Critique of The Student-Choice Concept as Elaborated by Policy Makers
4.1. Explaining the Decline in Enrolments, Especially Among Part-Time Students
4.1.1. The Sharp Rise in Tuition Fees
4.1.2. Difficulty of Part-Timers in Getting Loans
4.2. Explaining the Lack of Reduction in Class Inequality in Access
4.2.1. Insufficient Acknowledgement of Students’ Varying Attitudes toward Debt
4.2.2. A Narrow Conceptualization of Student Choice Making
4.3. Explaining the Lack of Evidence of Better Quality and Greater Labour-Market Responsiveness
4.4. Incorrectly Equating Greater Choice With Greater Equality
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The Labour government’s concerns about meeting the demands of a knowledge economy were discussed in detail in a 1998 white paper, Our Competitive Future: Building the Knowledge Driven Economy (Department of Trade and Industry 1998). This white paper was much influenced by publications coming out of the World Bank on the nature of the knowledge economy, the importance of investment in higher education, and the need to substantially privatize it (Olssen and Peters 2005).
When TEF was first introduced, it was anticipated that successful TEF performance would be linked to the level of tuition fees higher education institutions could charge. But this idea been deferred until 2020, in the hope that the evaluative procedures will command greater confidence by then.
This data source is severely limited. First, it only collects data on applications and acceptances to higher education which is different from the actual number of entrants (but it does calculate entry rates). Secondly, it excludes potential part-time students because they do not apply to higher education institutions through UCAS but directly to institutions. Finally, the measures of social disadvantage used primarily apply to young people and consequently the analysis focuses just on young students, especially 18 year olds rather than all full-time students.
These might include staff teaching qualifications, staff research expertise or industrial and business experience, research-informed teaching, and activities and resources to support learning such as investment in specialist equipment, technology and facilities.
These might include curriculum design, development and review, student assessment and feedback, optimisation of retention and progression, industrial engagement and volunteering opportunities, and student partnerships.
Part-time students were only included in the survey later.
There are other limitations to the DLHE and many of these are being addressed in the new Graduate Outcomes survey which will replace the DLHE.
Defined as having left full time education within five years of the survey date.
It provides no data on graduates’ occupation, giving only a partial picture of graduate outcomes.
Non-degree qualifications include: Foundation Degrees (FD), HND and HNC: Other higher education qualifications, for example Certificate of Higher Education; and Institutional Credits—credits that can be aggregated to qualify for a higher education award but which do not constitute an award in their own right.
While noting this, it is important to keep in mind that the main determinant of social-class differences in access to higher education is differentials in academic preparation (Vignoles and Crawford 2010).
In 2015/16, an estimated 89.5 per cent of English undergraduate students took out maintenance loans and 94 per cent of students took out tuition loans (Student Loans Company 2017).
The concept of risk—because it is both a category of individual rational analysis and also a socially constructed and socially variable perception—may provide a very fruitful location for the rapprochement between Goldthorpe’s (1996) rational action theory and Bourdieu’s (1977) concept of habitus that Devine (1998, 2004) and Hatcher (1998) have called for. For more on risk, see the work of Ulrich Beck (1992) on the rise of a “risk society” and its impact on individuals’ self-conceptions.
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Callender, C.; Dougherty, K.J. Student Choice in Higher Education—Reducing or Reproducing Social Inequalities? Soc. Sci. 2018, 7, 189. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7100189
Callender C, Dougherty KJ. Student Choice in Higher Education—Reducing or Reproducing Social Inequalities? Social Sciences. 2018; 7(10):189. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7100189Chicago/Turabian Style
Callender, Claire, and Kevin J. Dougherty. 2018. "Student Choice in Higher Education—Reducing or Reproducing Social Inequalities?" Social Sciences 7, no. 10: 189. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7100189