Friday, 7 March 2008

Numbers up, standards down

Universities are being paid a bonus worth up to £1,000 for every student they accept with lower qualifications.

They are receiving the cash premiums for taking students with Ds and Es at A-level as ministers battle to come within reach of a controversial university expansion target.

Funding chiefs admitted the Government's flagship target to recruit 50 per cent of 18 to 30-year-olds to higher education - originally given a 2010 deadline - is not likely to be met for another decade.

Universities are being told to spend the bonuses on remedial classes to help students with few or no qualifications cope with degree-level studies.

They are expected to provide pastoral support for students and re-draft their first-year teaching to include courses that will ease them into university life.

But academics called the payments "perverse incentives" and said universities should concentrate on developing talent rather than meeting numbers targets.

There were also claims that the bonuses amount to inducements to universities to distort admissions and sideline candidates with good grades.

Under a funding settlement unveiled today, universities will be paid "retention" bonuses on a sliding scale, with £943 available for undergraduates with no qualifications at all.

Premiums will also be paid when students achieve DDE or less at A-level, with smaller sums available for three Cs or less.

The cash is meant to help bring down dropout rates after evidence that nearly a quarter of students fail to finish their courses.
Now, in my opinion, high drop-out rates indicate that large numbers of students are being recruited, who are simply not suited to the academic rigours of university education. Certainly, one has to wonder how those who have only been able to achieve grades DDE or below at A-level are going to cope with a degree, which is supposed to be significantly more difficult. The high drop-out rate, which is particularly concentrated in academically-weaker universities, clearly indicates that many of these poorly-performing students are not able to cope.
One would think, therefore, that the solution would be to avoid recruiting students who have not demonstrated an aptitude for education sufficient to enable them satisfactorily to complete a degree. But, of course, putting intellectual quality before sheer quantity, in this manner, would go against the government's ridiculous 50% target. Accordingly, the government chooses to pay these bonuses, which really amount to little more than rewarding universities for recruiting, and giving degrees to, students who have not demonstrated their suitability for higher education. Surely this policy cannot fail to encourage universities to reduce their admission and assessment standards! As the number of university entrants pushes closer to the magic 50% mark, we can expect to see many more students being recruited who have not shown that they are up to the challenge of a degree, and, with this, either a further increase in the drop-out rate, a further reduction in standards, or, most likely, both.


Alex said...

FF writes: Now, in my opinion, high drop-out rates indicate that large numbers of students are being recruited, who are simply not suited to the academic rigours of university education.

I live in a provincial town which, a few years ago, was allowed to upgrade its adequate College of Education into a "university". Millions have been spent on providing new buildings, student accommodation, etc. Many of the courses of study are pitched at a (low) academic level that will permit weak students with poor entry qualifications - some are semi-literate and can't manage basic arithmetic - to gain "degrees" in virtually useless subjects. There is a big drop-out rate.

Time and enormous sums of money are being wasted on a ideological project that takes no account of the natural distribution of ability. It proceeds on the Mute Inglorious Milton theory, and assumes that almost everyone can benefit from a higher education. They cannot.

Umbongo said...

The solution is to give all the fuckwits, sorry undergraduates, an aegrotat degree based not on illness but on intellectual incapacity. What's more they can get this degree the day after they register at the "university" and thus graduate within 24 hours. That way the idiots get a "degree", the drop-out rate at "universities" drops to zero and the government gets its 50% (or 100% if it wants) into higher education. Anybody wanting a proper degree can stay on and work for 3 years in the old-fashioned way. A related bonus is that an enormous number of surplus and fifth-rate academics can be forced to find a proper job.

Anonymous said...

We should not lose sight of the fact that this government will do anything to massage the youth unemployment figures in advance of the next election. We have enormous numbers of unemployable youngsters claiming disability benefits to which they are not entitled. Now HMG is aiming to shunt another cohort into the sidings of a wasted university course. It will keep them off the dole for 3 years, and that's all that matters to the PM.