Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How not to recruit home students . . .

. . . charge them fees! There is currently much discussion in the press about Batt O'Keeffe's announcement that the debate on fees will be reopened, as reported in the Irish Times. This is obviously a controversial topic which will spark heated debates.

One of the biggest concerns is over the issue of widening participation, and whether the reintroduction of fees will deter potential students from lower income backgrounds. Much can probably be learned in this respect from the contortions that the English system has been through over the past decade in terms of the reintroduction of fees and student loans, the switch to 'top-up fees' and the complex range of bursaries offered by universities. Students in England now seem to be taking on more term-time employment to offset the expense of a university education.

Awhile ago in this blog, Iain drew attention to Claire Callender's research on the impact of term-time employment on student achievement, which is pertinent here. She found that:

"Some of the least qualified and poorest students are most adversely affected by term-time employment. Their everyday university experiences were very different from the minority who did not need to work, or who could confine their jobs to the vacations. Put starkly, these students worked for a short-term cash benefit and emerged from university with large debts, a history of working in bars and shops, and poorer degree results. Their more affluent and successful peers worked for a longer term career benefit and emerged with lower debt, interesting CVs, and good degree results". (Callendar 2008: 376).

So the lesson here might be to think about whether the reintroduction of fees will actively discourage those from a disadvantaged background to participate in higher education; or if not, whether they will participate but have a qualitatively different experience of HE with a quantitatively lower outcome. It seems likely that this debate is going to run for some time.

1 comment:

Iain said...

I wonder also about the argument that is being increasingly touted in the media about only 'the rich' being targeted. As those of us who have experienced attacks on universal benefits under Thatcherism will recognise, this is a classic tactic in which you encourage division and gradually with time lower the payment threshold and nurture private competition against the state sector. It's a shame that the concept of a universal and market-free service is not as strongly embedded in the national psyche compared to many other European nations. What next? The healthy needn't pay for healthcare for the sick, who after all get the maximum benefit from doctors, nurses and hospitals? Oh, perhaps I'm too late with that analogy also? ;-)

I don't dispute that substantial increases in income are needed in higher education in Ireland, but fees are hardly likely to be a panacea as careful scrutiny of the reality of international experience shows: massive personal debts, increased part-time work, lower achievement, higher dropout rates, competition for high-fee students at expense of others, decreasing state subvention and increasing fee levels to compensate, debt aversion amongst less wealthy, etc.....

Or perhaps not? I;m sure all these issues will be adequately taken into account by the forthcoming review.