Some other university, somewhere else By sach1tb -, CC BY-SA 2.0,

From the Annals of Truly Terrible Ideas comes this suggestion from the universities regulator. Apparently the idea is that they will determine market prices through regulation. That regulation being based upon how well, or how well not, diversity targets are met. This is to substitute a planned economy for the market one, which is to reverse the very point of having freed the universities to charge fees in the first place. It’s also a violation of that grand experiment we call the 20th century. Planned systems don’t work, market ones do:

Universities that fail to improve diversity will have their tuition fees slashed by a third, the university regulator has warned amid a row over Oxbridge’s admission policies.

Sir Michael Barber, the chairman of the Office for Students, said he is “interested in results, not just plans” in a clear warning to Oxford and Cambridge and other institutions that they must back up their words with action.

In an article for The Telegraph, Sir Michael said if a university does not “keep its promises” to improve diversity he would reduce the tuition fees cap from £9,000 to £6,000, and also threatened to fine universities as he insisted: “We will act.”

Prices are to be set by how well the universities meet the desires of the regulator. How long is the list of the regulator’s desires? And how much longer will it get when those with a grievance decide to lobby the regulator?

Quite, this the beginning of the killing off of even the most basic of markets and price competition and the imposition again of the planned system, isn’t it?

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  1. Its not even obvious it would work, Cambridge and Oxford are already heavily oversubscribed so the price isn’t at the market clearing rate anyway. I doubt there are many people who don’t choose Cambridge because of the price of the tuition (particularly as I understand all universities pretty much charge the same). If they really want quotas just be obvious and regulate quotas, of course employers would know about the quota and put everybody who may benefit from the quota into the same ‘less good’ mental category.
    Alternatively the regulator/government could sort out the education system, social issues and other real factors that stop those people being of sufficient good exam results to attend top universities. Though that probably requires starting at primary school level and so take 10 years to become apparent. Who knows perhaps 8 years ago they did succeed at that (doubtful I know) and its just the results aren’t yet visible..

  2. Bit like the article that did how terrible it was when some one from an ethnic background worked hard and had good grades,but still didn’t get into Oxford as it put off other people.
    Stupid as anyone clever enough to stand a chance of getting in understands there’s no garuntees. Our headmaster encouraged people to apply every year, sometimes people made it, sometimes no one, didn’t stop him encouraging or people applying.

    • I bet a phone call from Barber’s office would get your boy admitted, straight away.

      Wouldn’t Tim say dropping the tuition caps is a gentler solution than dictating admissions policy outright? It is a sort of Pigouvian Tax on continuing to favor students on the basis that they are likely to learn things.

  3. They also complain that Oxbridge students are predominantly rich southerners. When my cohort was applying for university we prioritised* those nearer over those further, and as norverners we went to prestigious norvern unis. I am completely unsurprised that southern universities are predominately studented by southerners.

    *wrong word, but that concept

  4. Since the poor kids in my old college are heavily subsidised by alumni to the point where the actual level of tuition fees mandated by the Vice-chancellor after talking to Department of Education is almost irrelevant, I don’t see what Sir Michael Barber’s threats will do. We alumni were subsidised by the founder and earlier alumni and lots of us are happy to subsidise subsequent generations.
    For decades Oxford has made efforts to attract kids with ability no matter to what colour class or creed the student may belong and tailored its admission standards to favour those whose ‘A’ level performance might have been adversely affected by their environment [which is why David Miliband got into Corpus with worse ‘A’ levels than I had at 16]

  5. @ jgh
    When I was 17, Durham was too near home; there weren’t any other Northern Universities that ranked in the top 4 (we were limited to 4 choices of non-Oxbridge). A longer list would have included Manchester, probably Lancaster (and, some years later, York). Nottingham is in the Midlands like Birmingham.
    I do NOT care what they say – in my day we had more boys from Manchester Grammar than Eton; I was neither rich nor a southerner (although I have been stuck down here ever since)

  6. I don’t wish to appear judgmental or anything but I suspect that the majority of the people applying to be on Love Island would be unlikely to be knocking on the door of the admissions department at Oxbridge anytime soon.