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Former Polytechnics Should Lose University Status, Says Adonis

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The former Labour education minister Andrew Adonis has reignited one of the oldest controversies in British education by calling for the clock to be turned back on polytechnics granted university status.

Lord Adonis told a House of Lords committee that the government’s decision 25 years ago to allow more than 30 polytechnics to take the title of university was a mistake, and argued for the removal of the status from what he termed “the lower-performing former polytechnics”.

“I do think it was a very serious mistake – and I would never have done it as minister – to have rebadged all of the polytechnics as universities in 1992, which was a reform done without any proper consideration or advice,” Adonis told the committee, during a hearing on education funding.

“I think we’ve lost a very great deal of the edge and focus of vocational, particularly technical, higher education as a result of it.

“I think there is a very good case for reversing that reform, in respect of the lower-performing former polytechnics and doing it in the context of a very significant reduction in the fees they are allowed to charge students, so we can offer a much better deal to students as part of a new reform.”

Adonis’s radical proposal, which would be fiercely opposed across the higher education sector, is the latest in a string of controversial proposals by the peer, a former education special adviser to Tony Blair and later a minister in Blair and Gordon Brown’s administration.

Adonis has regularly crossed swords with senior university leaders on the issues of vice-chancellors’ pay and the tuition fees charged by universities in England.

Asked by the committee for his view on Theresa May’s recent decision to raise the income threshold that triggers graduate repayment of student loans from £21,000 to £25,000, Adonis said he thought the whole system of loans and fees would soon be scrapped.

“It looks to me as if the whole system is a pack of cards waiting to collapse,” Adonis said.

“It reminds me of the poll tax, [as] each bolted-on reform trying to make it more acceptable simply added to the costs and made it more baroque, and hastened the day when the whole system was going to collapse.”

But Adonis clashed politely with Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, over his repeated claim that universities in the UK had formed a cartel in setting tuition fees at the maximum level.

Johnson said it was “extremely logical” for universities to exploit the way the government set funding, while Adonis later confessed he had no evidence of collusion between institutions.


David Willetts, the former Conservative higher education minister who introduced the £9,000 tuition fees backed by income-contingent student loans, told the committee it was “very regrettable” how the new system had put off part-time students since 2012.

“I would have to accept that is one of my biggest regrets about my time as minister,” Willetts said.

“The loans model has not worked for them, and I accept that.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/oct/10/former-uk-polytechnics-should-lose-university-status-says-adonis

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