Earn as you Learn?
As regular readers of this blog will be aware, the government's reforms of higher education (HE) will usher in undergraduate fees as high as £9000 from this year - yet paradoxically the government has said that it encourage lower fees. To try to do this, the government has redistributed some 20,000 undergraduate places from universities to institutions that provide courses costing £7,500 or less a year.
Here in the West Midlands several universities have done quite well out of the reallocation, with both Coventry University and Birmingham City University big winners with extra places. As universities with strong employer links and a focus on applied research this is to be welcomed.
Meanwhile universities like Warwick which can recruit students with AAB A-level grades can essentially take unlimited numbers. Those stuck in the middle, charging full-fees but not recruiting at AAB, are being squeezed by the government.
Nevertheless, with places taken out of the system completely in 2012-13 or transferred to Further Education Colleges, around 25,000 fewer young people will be able to go to university in 2012-13 to do full-time degrees as compared with 2011-12. With a continuing need to upskill the workforce and with huge youth unemployment, this seems a bizarre policy.
So I'm pleased that in Coventry the University has tried to help out local students with good A-level grades who may otherwise lose out because of the tight squeeze on full-time places available by offering an alternative route to getting a degree.
Coventry University College, which formally opens next month, will offer part-time degrees that can be completed in just three and a half years, compared to six or seven years at other universities and at a fraction of the price of a full-time University degree. That's just six months longer than a 'conventional' three year degree programme.
What's more, the new College will be open all year round - so students who want to pay their way through their studies can study part-time and work part-time. The College's Chief Exec, John Dishman notes that this could appeal to students already be in part-time employment and in this way "they could earn as they learn." Potentially students could leave University with minimal debts while also having chalked up work experience that future employers might well value.
Students will study in a newly refurbished building on Coventry University's campus so will feel part of the wider university. The College's degree courses are divided into six-week modules with each module costing £1,200 in 2012. With three blocks a year for the part-time students, the annual cost of studying part-time at Coventry University College will be £3,600 a year, as compared to the £9,000 maximum that many universities will charge students from 2012 onwards.
Dishman notes that the new College is likely to be attractive to local students who live at home who wouldn't be eligible for living allowances but who would still be able to apply for a student loan to fund their part-time degree course.
What's also good news is that the new College will help students come out with vocationally orientated qualifications that are in strong demand from both students and employers - such as health and life sciences, engineering, law and accountancy.
Of course, the sector should not be in the situation of having to create part-time university places to stem a loss of full-time places. Ideally we need more of both, especially at a time of mass youth unemployment and a real need to up-skill the population.
That said, this is still an innovative response by Coventry University to the disappointing cut in full-time university places, and one that caters to local needs. That's good news for the city of Coventry.
Professor David Bailey works at Coventry University Business School