Prof Patrick McGhee

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University of East London Chief Says UK Higher Education ‘Hit by Double Whammy’

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2011 at 12:09 pm

The full text of my press release on the current state of higher education in the UK.


For immediate release – Friday, 25 November 2011

University of East London Chief Says UK Higher Education ‘Hit by Double Whammy’


Professor Patrick McGhee, Vice-Chancellor of the University of East London, has called for the government to rethink its higher education policy claiming that the sector’s success is being jeopardised by the ‘double-whammy’ of tuition fees policy deterring home students and the new immigration policy deterring overseas applicants.


“The UK higher education sector is one of the best in the world for research, teaching, knowledge transfer and widening access” he said; but all these areas are threatened by the new fees regime and the way it has been introduced alongside Home Office restrictions on overseas applicants.


“The privatisation and consumerisation of higher education is to be resisted” he said. “Higher education is a public good and should be funded and supported as such. The government’s proposals threaten the intellectual autonomy of universities and their capacity to be a force for social change, economic justice and personal fulfilment.


“Early applications data show not only that there is a real risk of a general downturn, but there is clear evidence of mature students, female students and students from regions of the UK most badly affected by recession and cuts being deterred more than most.”


Speaking at the University’s recent graduation ceremony, Professor Patrick McGhee said: “The UK higher education reforms as currently stated will undermine universities’ ability to contribute to economic recovery and justice. We cannot afford as a nation to take that risk.


“Investment in higher education should not be contingent on rate of recovery from recession, nor contingent on rate of reduction of public debt, but contingent on our commitment to the learning and life changes of future generations. I wonder if we are really serious about so-called student choice when so many are deterred by debt.


“With 100% of teaching funding removed from the majority of courses, universities had little choice but to raise tuition fees. Some have welcomed being forced to do this; I have done it very reluctantly.  My university will maximise the amount of financial support for incoming students. We will not reduce headline fees with waivers but provide value through greater scholarships and bursaries. If I have to choose between helping the Treasury and helping my students, I will choose my students every time.”

He went on to say: “The UK’s reputation overseas has been severely damaged by signals that overseas students are not welcome. Even those who are welcome he said feel unwelcome due to the bureaucratic and restrictive nature of entry criteria and policy statements.


“What other nation would work so hard to turn away the future leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, technologists, professionals and politicians of the world? What other nation would work so hard to deny their home students the chance to learn, share explore and network with peers from around the globe?”


He called on the Home Office to declassify university from the migration statistics, as the vast majority do not and cannot stay and work after graduation even though they stay for more than a year, which counts as migration under current government policy. ”Our international educational strategy should be driven by what is right for our students, researchers and institutions.


“There is a longer term challenge here to develop and support UK higher education for the 21st century and that work is overdue. We must start that work urgently, but the government’s proposals are emphatically not the start that we should be embracing.


“In line with mission groups, an increasing number of Vice-Chancellors across the sector and  a wide range of student and staff groups, I call on the government to pause and rethink the introduction of the HE Bill, the restrictions on UK student numbers and its policy on international student migration.


Note to Editors

Professor McGhee was one of 15 Vice-Chancellors to sign an open letter opposing the introduction of tuition fees to £9k in December 2010. 


The University of East London (UEL) is a global learning community with over 28,000 students from over 120 countries world-wide. Our vision is to achieve recognition, both nationally and internationally, as a successful and inclusive regional university proud of its diversity, committed to new modes of learning which focus on students and enhance their employability, and renowned for our contribution to social, cultural and economic development, especially through our research and scholarship. We have a strong track-record in widening participation and working with industry.



3 Steps The Government Can Take Now to Improve the Tuition Fee Scheme

In Blogroll, Politics, Uncategorized on August 12, 2011 at 9:39 am

Next week’s A-level results will get higher education back on the mainstream news agenda.  Those students enjoying examination success will look forward in most cases to university enrolment. The front pages of most newspapers will be filled with pictures of happy smiling students.

They will of course be the final cohort before the new fees regime is introduced, with tuition fees set in most cases at or near £9,000. As I have made clear as co-signatory to a letter in the Telegraph last year I am opposed to the Coalition’s new fees arrangements for university tuition.  My opposition is both on the grounds of principle and practicality. As I highlighted in a recent article in the Guardian online, I am particularly concerned about the way in which the values of the parameters of the new system could be changed in the future, particularly if this, or any future administration, comes under financial pressure.  For example, the parameter ‘Amount to be Paid Up Front’ could be changed from its present value of zero to something much higher.

The vulnerability of student repayment arrangements to direct financial pressure, or to pressure refracted through a polarised bipartisan political agenda, can be seen in the concessions extracted by the Republicans from the Obama administration as part of the larger settlement on the US Debt Ceiling crisis. Subsidised loans are effectively abolished and, even with a $17bn cut, the Pell Grants Scheme potentially faces a $1bn shortfall in 2012. The impact of the settlement affects students in many different ways, as this analysis by Candice Choi highlights, but, as usual, it is the disadvantaged and underrepresented who will be most badly affected.

It is essential therefore that in the UK we make sure that we look carefully at the system that has been set up for student repayments. What can we be doing now to make the system being put in place fairer, more robust and less vulnerable to political reshaping?

There are three specific areas of reform which I would like to propose. They reflect a need for greater stability, focus and consistency.

  1. Make a commitment to stability in student financing arrangements. The Coalition should commit to a no compulsory upfront payment requirement for the rest of this Parliament and enshrine in law a three-year notice period of any changes to the values of the key parameters in the model that are detrimental to students, their families or sponsoring employers. This is important because the preparatory work for HE students prior to enrolement is signficant be it A-levels, access to HE programmes or other routes. Further, sponsors after all need a degree of stability in the thing they are being encouraged to sponsor. Additionally, such a commitment would provide a greater level of predictability for universities. The last thing we want right now is further complications or deterrents for students, or even just the prospect of such a changes.
  2. Encourage optional early repayment.  One of the cuts made in the US deal was the abolition of a discount for early repayers of Federal loans. In the UK this is a touchy subject. In the lead up to the fees debate in November 2010 Liberal Democrats generally were against the idea of any upfront repayment at all as it enabled wealthier students and families to avoid any accumulating interest on the tuition fee ‘debt’.   I have an open mind on this. We don’t get exercised about the fact that people can pay upfront for a whole range of other goods and services. Furthermore, sponsors don’t want to be making payments towards interest or to have payments structured complexly over time. They often want to make a one-off up front payment. Making everyone pay more and taking longer to do it is not self-evidently an optimal arrangement.  In any event, there are larger issues of fairness and transparency to be addressed. So let’s put that matter to bed and create space for the wider debate.
  3. Include all graduate income in calculations. At the moment the key feature of the repayment arrangement is that graduates only start to repay their loan liability at a rate of 9% on earnings above £21,000. I take the view that if we are to have a repayment system with these parameters, then these values, (9% at £21k)  are manageable for graduates. However, as far as can be determined from the DBIS website on student financial support ‘income’ is only considered in terms of salary earned through paid employment. Surely all taxable income, including unearned income from shares, rental properties and trust funds should be included? This would be affordable (it’s actual income for the graduate) it helps the Treasury (faster rate of loan recovery) and, even if objectively the financial benefit was marginal, it’s fairer.

This time next year we welcome students under a very different financial model. As misconceived as it is in my view, we can still make that model more stable, more transparent and more fair. More to the point, we need to be seen to be doing so.

Of course, what we should really do is rework the model and its parameters, and not just the values of those parameters. Teaching funding should be subject to a cut of no-more than the 25% or so being visited upon other Government Department’s spending budgets, with the balance made up of revenue from a Graduate Tax. But to have that, in turn, as an interim position until such time as we can construct a model of free higher education at the point of use for all who can benefit from it, given that UK society as a whole enjoys such a significant and enduring dividend from high participation in one of the best higher education systems in the world.

That would indeed be something for us all to smile about.

Professor Patrick McGhee

Twitter: @VC_UEL

5 Reflections on the 2011 AV Vote

In Uncategorized on May 7, 2011 at 1:46 pm

So the votes have been cast and counted and we have a result.  Approximately,  19.1m people voted on a higher than expected turnout of 41%. The final result was Yes 32.1% and No 67.9%.  Although the result was widely predicted, the margin of victory is unexpected.  Here are five thoughts on the whole business.

1. It was a mistake for LibDems to schedule the referendum on the same days as the local elections.  

It must have been tempting  for Nick Clegg to accept the proposal that there would be a referendum in the Spring alongside the local elections. It must have seemed on the face of it to ensure, to some extent at least, a decent turnout.  But the miscalculation was surely that London, where AV support was always going to be higher, had no local elections for 5 May 2011. It was the worst possible combination – local elections being discussed nationally, but not actually happening in London.

2. Why was there a rush to have the referendum in the first year in office?

Given that any reform to the electoral system could only be implemented in relation to the next General Election – already scheduled for May 2015 – why was there the rush? Not only had LibDems insufficient time to build up interest let alone support for electoral reform, such time as they had had been filled with the political damage of being seen as the handmaidens to cuts.  In short, 12 months has not been enough time for LibDems to build the case for electoral reform, but just enough time to be identified with cuts and broken promises.

In short, 12 months has not been enough time for LibDems to build the case for electoral reform, but just enough time to be identified with cuts and broken promises

3 Two East London Boroughs had interesting outcomes

Hackney had the highest level of ‘Yes’ voters, while Newham had the lowest turnout.  Hackney is developing rapidly and is becoming more and more different from the other boroughs that surround it. Newham has the most diverse population in Europe. It has a directly elected Mayor enjoying overwhelming Labour support.

4 Electoral Reformists appear not to have thrown in the towel

Mr Huhne and the former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown seem clear that while AV might be dead, PR remains untested. It will surely be the end of electoral reform proposals in this Parliament, and it seems for now at least unlikely that the LibDems will have the same sort of leverage in the next Parliament. Particularly since, and how can I put this, they did not succeed in the very reform that would have protected or enhanced their seats.

5 ‘First Past the Post’ is not really ‘First Past the Post’ at all

This has only struck me this morning. ‘First Past the Post’ involves not a candidate getting past a winning post but the candidate being in the lead when the vote counting stops. And in FPTP it finishes early – after just one round of voting. By contrast, and to me rather ironically, AV is more of a FPTP system, in the sense that the race is not over until one candidate is past the post ie securing more than 50% of the votes.