UK higher education campaigners have launched an alternative Higher Education White Paper which they have delivered directly to Westminster.

The paper was released yesterday; almost one month after the UK Government launched the official document that received a mixed reaction from experts and teachers alike, while the proposition of even higher tuition fees sparked outrage from the country’s current and prospective students.

The new, alternative paper was launched by the Convention for Higher Education (HE), an experienced team of activists and academics who decided to collaborate to “defend” the UK HE sector, as they accuse the nation’s Government of having “no vision of HE and its benefit to students, and to the whole of society.”

The substitute paper calls for a system that delivers research to address social and scientific challenges, and also defends academic freedoms, all the while seeking to provide future generations with an education that means much more than the mere acquisition of qualifications, as things like critical, soft and social skills become ever more valuable within modern industry, business, and society as a whole.

Campaigners are particularly critical of the Government’s ‘obsession’with bringing untried for-profit education providers into the UK university system, and failing to defend the values of public higher education.

John Holmwood and Tom Hickey of the Convention of HE said last month’s White Paper caused “great concern and dismay” among sector professionals, adding that: “They are taken to signal a potentially fatal structural altercation to the distinctive character of British universities, as well as ending the provision of HE as a public good.”

The alternative paper also condemns the idea of the UK fostering an ‘Americanised’ education system, stating instead that the sector should be learning from U.S. system’s faults.

“UCU [University College Union] has been a leading critic of the U.S. system that the government has sought to emulate, highlighting how students have derisory graduation rates, crushing levels of debts and degrees of dubious value,” notes the UCU.

Sally Hunt, the UCU’s General Secretary, argues the case for a student-centric university system that puts pioneering research and academic freedom “at its heart”.

“The Government’s narrow focus on qualifications and allowing for-profit companies to enter the university market cannot achieve this,” said Hunt.

“This [alternative] White Paper sets out a clear vision for an alternative system and should kick-start the debate about what higher education should be for and what it looks like.”

Image via JISC.

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