Universities are strange two-headed beasts: they are places where much of the research we publish is conducted, but they are also educational institutes, whose job is to train students (not all of whom go on to become scientists, or necessarily contribute to the research side of the enterprise). Added to the mix now is that many universities are now effectively businesses, having to provide their own operating revenues in the face of tighter funding.
In the UK, there is increasing grumbling that this is Not A Good Thing, with many university staff members warning that some of the tactics involved in raising these revenues will dilute the value of the degrees that are being doled out.
While some of this might be because of the very British sport of grumbling (there was a similar furore over ‘mickey mouse degrees’ a few years ago), this time here does seem to be more cause for concern: a whistleblower at an (unnamed) ‘world famous UK university’ says that the rush to recruit overseas students (who pay much higher fees, and are therefore very lucrative for Universities) is leading to postgraduate degrees being awarded to students who lack basic language skills. Similarly, a leaked email from the Manchester Metropolitan University instructs staff to bear in mind the university’s desire to increase the proportion of top-scoring degrees when assessing students.
Much as I would like to add to the chorus of this being Not A Good Thing (and the administration at MMU has been quick to distance itself from the leaked email, as it should), it is an inescapable fact that universities are expensive to run, and with the loss of traditional funding (such as government grants), the money has to come from somewhere. The danger is that treating educational institutes entirely as businesses is going to devalue the degrees they award, by producing graduates who aren’t as qualified as one might expect. This kind of loss of reputation is hard to reverse.
Are there alternate ways for universities to solve their funding crisis? Have you had any experience with students who you felt were not qualified to be on a course you were teaching, and what did you do?