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Groups behaving differently

The government’s higher education white paper identifies solutions to the wrong problems.

The 85 pages of this week’s higher education white paper, Success as a Knowledge Economy, have already generated much comment. But three basic questions remain: what problems with the higher education system is the government seeking to solve? Will its prescriptions bring about the solutions it seeks? And, most importantly, are these really the most important higher education-related problems faced by the nation?

The essence of the government’s critique is that the higher education system is no longer fit for purpose, that it is giving fee-paying students a poor deal, and that complacent universities are providing antiquated teaching and neglectful services that leave students unhappy and employers frustrated. Setting aside the counterfactual evidence―that the great majority of students are well satisfied with their experiences, that the graduate employment market is booming and that international students are clamouring to study in the UK―there is nonetheless a general acceptance that most universities and other higher education providers could do better.

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