The most depressing thing about the higher education debate in this country is how woefully uninformed the public is.
The NUS and corollary protesting groups focuses their campaigning almost exclusively on one issue - tuition fees for full-time undergraduate domestic students - when 40 per cent of its students (and by logical extension of that, many of its own members) study part-time so will benefit hugely from the Government's scrapping of up-front fees for part-time students.
Yet they can't even be trusted to represent one issue properly. First, the NUS has been using language that deliberately instils misguided fear in students' minds, for instance by only framing the increase as fees of £9,000, whereas the Government is actually increasing fees to £6,000 and permitting universities to charge up to £9,000 in exceptional circumstances and under strict access criteria. Secondly, the NUS and certain Labour MPs have been describing the £9,000 fee level as a 300% increase, which it isn't (it is less than 190%). That's just sloppy maths.
What is abominable maths and far more invidious is the habit of several organisations in recent years to publish shambolicly amateur market research that claims to reveal what future students would or would not pay for a degree. The NUS has been guilty of this in the past and the latest culprit is Aimhigher, the organisation that runs schemes to encourage poorer students to apply to universities.
Reported today by the BBC, Aimhigher claims that less than a third of young people would be willing to pay £9,000 per year in fees. Give them their due, they have at least been asking future students as opposed to current students - the error committed by most previous surveys. Yet they have not framed it as a proper purchasing choice. As I've already stated the deficiencies of such studies enough before (see here and here), I won't rehearse the arguments, other than repeat that if organisations are going to produce these surveys and put them into the public domain, they need to be done properly and according to robust methodologies. Publishing this sort of 'research' is plainly irresponsible.
Aimhigher, which has received £250 million of funding since 2008, is being cut next year. This has, of course, attracted criticism but it shouldn't matter when you consider that a key part of the Government's reforms is to do away with Offa's minimum bursary requirement and have universities go on the road to low aspiration and low attainment schools.
It is yet another important part of the package that is being drowned out by the shrill, myopic obsession with tuition fees for full-time undergraduate UK students.