Statement on tuition fees
7 December 2010
Over recent weeks and months I have been urged by both politicians and students to state publicly my support or objection to the proposed rise in University tuition fees.
In doing so now, I am mindful that I do not speak as a private individual but as the Vice-Chancellor of a world-leading University which has in the last century produced Nobel Prize winning researchers, life-changing discoveries and knowledge, widespread economic impact and – most importantly of all – powerful global change through the education of outstanding graduates who have left our University to make the world a better, more prosperous place.
I also do so constrained by our status as a charitable organisation, not allied in any way to any political party but with an educational mission to fulfil. This is our contribution to our city, our country and the wider world, and it is this which drives my comments now.
This position is not only my view. It reflects the considered opinion of the University Executive Board, who both treasure the quality and longevity of the outstanding education we offer, but who also feel deep concern for the opportunities Sheffield offers to students of every background – an area where we have a valued reputation based on hard work and direct experience.
The position of the University of Sheffield on student fees is based on an understanding that the government´s current proposals do not sit in isolation. Proposals for a far higher contribution from graduates than at present are linked to already announced unprecedented cuts in funding for Higher Education. If this gap was left unfilled, it would be impossible to deliver the education for which this University has gained a global reputation. We believe that situation is untenable.
However, while we are deeply concerned about this very real risk, we do not in any way relish the current proposals on tuition fees. The decisions regarding the funding of all aspects of education rest with Government, as they do for many other areas of public life. Saying that we will work with our staff and students in whatever situation we find ourselves in by no means assumes that we welcome or desire that context.
Many of our students and staff will have personal views on political decisions and votes. None of us wants to see students with talent put off Higher Education because of fears about future debt, or to see the quality of University teaching and research suffer for lack of funding. We reject however the `either/ or´ thinking which assumes these are a country´s only options. While students and graduates may share the cost of funding their education, it is vital that nations who benefit so much from the contributions of universities also actively support their continued strengths.
Our real concern is that a University education should not be reduced to a simple consumer exchange and measured in narrow cost-benefit terms. Its impact is transformative at every level, and a sound investment for all concerned – not only students and graduates, but also governments and nations. This is why so many other developed countries, in the face of severe cuts in other areas, are continuing to invest in Higher Education for the long-term well-being of their people. We would urge our Government to share this far-sighted vision.
It is our job to sustain this vision, and to work within realities to deliver it. This is where we shall place our energies, and this is what continues to unite our staff and students.
Professor Keith Burnett