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News Analysis - Higher education and the pound


Britain’s reliance on overseas students as a means of funding higher education is a policy that Workers has criticised over the years. Now the financial services firm Grant Thornton, in a recent analysis for The Times Higher Education journal, has recently spelt out the lunacy of this policy.

Based on 2006-7 data, Grant Thornton identified 11 institutions that depend on overseas students for more than 25 per cent of their teaching income and more than 15 per cent of their total income. It points out that any institution that relies on overseas student income is particularly vulnerable to exchange rate fluctuations.

Seven institutions would immediately fall into the red if their overseas income fell by as little as 10 per cent. The seven are: Aston, City, Exeter, East London and Middlesex Universities, the Royal Academy of Music and the School of Oriental and African Studies.

Formula for attack

The focus on overseas students (and teaching them at the expense of British students) underlies the government’s attack on adult education using the formula “ELQ”. The idea of this formula was announced by education minister John Denham in autumn 2007.

Under the formula, anyone who signs up for a course providing a qualification which is equal to or less than the highest qualification he or she has previously obtained will have to pay what the government defines to be the full “economic” cost of the course.

At a stroke it will eliminate most education of people past the age of 30. The far-sighted Victorians who founded adult education, such as the great George Birkbeck in London University, recognised that while society needs “vertical” education within the walls of universities, in which people gain higher and higher knowledge within a single ever-narrowing field of study (necessary for the development of professions), there must also be a lateral or “horizontal” spread of education outside the walls (“extra muros”) of the university.

This generates an intelligent public with whom the experts can talk. It also allows someone who has got into the wrong vertical channel to move sideways into the right one. And it enables the cross-fertilisation of ideas that occurs when disciplines talk to each other.

In the past it was also a device to help someone who had completely missed out on secondary education at school to fill the gap as an adult – after 70 years of compulsory secondary education this should be a vanishingly small group, yet this is the only group for which adult education is to be funded under the ELQ formula.