The higher education bill to be voted on in the Commons this coming Tuesday (27th January 2004) like the white paper has mixed blessings for postgraduates. Within all the rising media coverage, there are high concerns about the proposals to introduce tuition fees that could rise to a significant value in the future which will add onto the debt of maintenance loans that a vast proportion of undergraduates will have to take out. NPC rejects such proposals under its policy in that the burden of debt that will hinder the opportunities to continue to postgraduate education, which could significantly benefit their career and contribution to the economy and society. It is a wonder how it will be possible for somebody in employment after completing a postgraduate qualification that they may have to pay back the debt incurred by both their undergraduate degree and the commercial rate non income contingent loan they may have taken out as a postgraduate. NPC therefore would urge the government to rethink this issue with respect to the risk of a declining supply of postgraduate students from the UK.
Other parts of the bill, which are not so widely spoken about, do in fact bring good news for NPC. For many years NPC has long campaigned to see the abolition of jurisdiction of student complaints from the medieval and archaic University Visitorial system. This system will be replaced by an independent adjudicator who will provide a time efficient, transparent and independent view on disputes that a student has with an institution where all internal procedures have been exhausted.
Finally the formation of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) is excellent news for NPC. Again the NPC has been long campaigning to see this take place as this will now allow more promotion of research in the arts and humanities and also cross disciplinary research where appropriate by working with other research councils. As the higher bill says, the AHRC will allow:
- Carrying out, facilitating, encouraging and supporting research in the arts and humanities and instruction in the arts and humanities
- Advancing and disseminating knowledge in, and promoting understanding of, the arts and humanities
- Promoting awareness of the bodys activities
- Providing advice on matters relating to the bodys activities
NPC hopes this part of the bill will promote better postgraduate education and research in the arts and humanities where funding has been limited. This should also facilitate a better research environment for such subjects where resources are low.
While there are parts of the bill that may be good news, NPC does not accept that the parts of the bill to introduce tuition fees are in any way acceptable and do not claim to be happy with the bill in its entirety. NPC asks the government to consider how such a system will affect the future of postgraduate education for UK students where fees are rising higher. NPC believes the burden of debt from undergraduate education will create a drain rather than a gain in UK postgraduates.
To end on a positive note, the production of this bill does help NPC to identify two major successes over its existence since it was constituted in 1992. It has been highlighted by individuals from NPCs earlier days how they began to campaign for the removal of Visitorial jurisdiction and to change the Arts and Humanities Research Board to a research council with wonder as to whether it would ever happen. Much of this takes time and looking over the history of NPCs work it can be identified these are major successes the organisation has achieved through work passed down the generations. The story is not over yet, although major mileposts have been met and they will serve to prove the purpose of NPCs existence working with others. This has resulted in the government proposing to create fair and transparent student complaints procedures as well as promotion of research across all disciplines.