It was fine for academics to engineer university education to suit themselves and their research, writing, lecture tour and sabbatical activities in the past when Universities were free for students to attend and even paid students to attend them via the student grant.
However now that British Universities are not free to attend and fees have recently risen by 200% for the majority of students, and the process of turning students into those demanding creatures known as consumers is well underway, how much longer will students put up with the fact that a three year degree could easily be condensed into two years for most degree courses, thus saving students precious money and resources?
Not least when you consider that with holidays taken out, most British universities are spending no longer than six months of the year engaged in actual teaching/lecturing activities and even then, not equivalent to the timetable demands of a school, unless of the intense nature of a medical degree, which may require placement shift work in addition to conventional tutoring.
Some OxBridge academics in particular teach for as little as 15 hours a month on full-time salary, with the rest of the time devoted to their own academic activities. They are not even required to share the financial fruits of any academic success with their College or University, much though their College may benefit from the kudos of their incumberance.
Would it also surprise people to know that the majority of OxBridge academics are not actually OxBridge graduates themselves? Which isn’t to say they are not generally high-quality academics, but it’s the brand that you are primarily buying into with OxBridge, and the networking towards your future you will be doing whilst there. Elitism? Certainly. But that is the brand being sold here. You want redbrick values? Choose a redbrick! Don’t choose Oxford and then bleat to the Daily Mail about its inherent social unfairness, though things have opened up somewhat for those lacking in silver spoons at birth over the last 30-40 years.
While the cost of becoming a graduate has gone up, the value of being a graduate has simultaneously gone down, resulting in higher numbers of graduates flipping burgers or emigrating. Ten years ago a typical graduate starting salary was £21k. It is now £14k. If they can get a job. Supply is beginning to exceed demand as the rate for university entry carries on rising though demand for graduates of the less popular subjects such as chemistry is still high.
Meanwhile the international students relied on as cash cows are seeing high-quality universities going up in their own countries offering a cheaper alternative closer to home. There are also internet degrees as well as the more established alternatives such as the Open University. Even home students are noticing they can get an English-speaking university education in the Netherlands for up to two-thirds less cost than in England. Apprenticeships and traineeships are being resurrected with some companies offering new recruits free training to degree level in their field as part of the package, particularly companies such as accountancy firms.
It is time UK universities started waking up and smelling the coffee re the future. The current level of graduates is unsustainable on so many levels, not to mention failing to turn out the right numbers of capable and cultivated individuals in the right areas for the country's benefit, being top-heavy in some subjects and bottom-heavy in others. They also need to decide if they are corporations or educational institutions as the two do not marry well and have completely incompatible agendas. Oxford and Cambridge will doubtless survive, but some will definitely be closing their doors in the coming years if they are not providing the USP of a gold-standard education and have no kudos, quaint pretty buildings or useful social network to offer either.