Here's what I wrote on a mailing list after reading this story.
One cannot help it, the progressive governments (both conservative and labour) have simply and slowly decided to starve the intellectual and the brain state and instead have kept on plonking investment into the welfare state. And whatever monies have gone into higher education, the implementation has been bad. And I speak as an adjunct or visiting fellow/professor in several universities in many countries, member of an advisory board of a university, from speaking to several friends who are now senior professors or Deans of studies and from my view of membership of several national technical, innovation, educational and charitable associations/boards.
Our universities are still quite good, do not get me wrong, but investment is simply horrible. Is it a surprise that the only private university in the UK, which has only few thousand students, regularly tops the league of student satisfaction? Beating Oxford, Cambridge and other Russell universities hollow? Buildings are falling about the place but universities are stopped from getting private investment because of stupid rules and laws (witness a variety of issues ranging from the animal liberation front to insistence on very high amounts of student intake to social engineering based upon welfare state status and demographics etc.). The publication driven research funding agenda has caused an explosion of research but actually a reduction of quality. And then the government comes to drive 50% of students in tertiary education without giving it commensurate funding.
So what happens when you nearly triple the workload while halving the resources? I will let you imagine that. Not that the quality of the students is any good. I was in Leicester some weeks back (where the British/non-British ratio is 85%, so cannot blame the bloody foreigners). The professor I know there said that he failed 75% of his class in basic business studies. And these are students who want to study business studies, have done A levels in Business. We are investing millions in financial education because the children we get in university are functionally and financially illiterate. Why would they be literate? Since when did they actually have to pay for anything? their music is free, their films are free, their communications are free, their entertainment is free, their housing, board and everything is free. So why on earth would they know what is the worth of anything? And when we are surprised that these children drop out in droves or bugger around doing a degree in reggae music or surfing management or what have you?
Tertiary education has to be recognised that it is NOT for everybody and has to be reduced in scale. For 800 years, we knew that the tertiary education was a very rare DUTY, had to be well funded and had to get only the rare and very good students into it. That was the reason why our universities, for 800 odd years, have had a reputation for being the best. Now we remove the funding, we throw it open to students who are simply incapable of dealing with that level of intellectual activity, and promise university education to anybody who wakes up one day and decides to go to a university.
There IS a simple answer, equalise opportunity by giving scholarships but let universities charge what they wish. Speak to every chancellor, vice chancellor, professor and Dean and by and large, by very large proportion, is what they wish for. All they want is to make sure that they get the resources to do the job that they want. As we are unwilling to stump up the taxes to pay for it, we have to pay fees. And this isn't a Labour versus conservative thing, both parties are in the same situation.
In the meantime, we get foreign students who give us the money to educate British students. Effectively, we are asking foreign parents to educate our young because we do not think our young are important enough to educate effectively.