Setting the Tone

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

- Theodore Roosevelt

Sunday, October 09, 2011

University of Wales Scandal: British Higher Education's Moment of Shame?

BBC Wales claims that they have discovered that students can buy their University of Wales degree. They ran the documentary last Wednesday in their Week In Week Out programme on BBC Wales, claiming that students can just pay their way through. In the programme, the reporter made many bold comments, and claimed that Wales' national institution has brought the entire nation, presumably Welsh nation, to shame.

BBC was fortunate in its timing, as they broke the story just as a new Vice Chancellor was starting at the university. He was apparently unprepared for such a breaking news, and when confronted with the claims made by the reporter, he immediately ordered that University of Wales will stop validating other colleges' programmes, as it did earlier. His stance looked like the admission of defeat even before a single shot was fired. Admittedly, this may have come not prompted by the BBC documentary at all, but from soul-searching and other usual stuff that happens when new Vice Chancellors take over. In that case, this was disastrous timing, because this announcement confirmed what BBC was claiming, that University of Wales degrees conferred through partner colleges are indeed questionable.

However, if someone actually watches the documentary, they will have more questions about British journalism than British degrees. The journalist discovered cases of fraud in granting diplomas from two British qualification bodies, NCFE and ATHE, not of University of Wales. These diplomas could have earned the students some credit waivers towards the University of Wales MBA, as it could have done for many other courses in many other universities. These diplomas were offered not by any University of Wales accredited colleges, but small-time companies offering classes in rented premises. There was no direct evidence that the University of Wales, or any of its partner colleges are involved in any wrongdoing.

It is indeed distressing for me personally as one of the programmes we run in our college is validated by the University of Wales. I have been actively involved in diversifying the college course portfolio over the recent months and introducing other programmes, but I am aware that the University of Wales programme was run with integrity and great effort. Besides, there are thousands of students in colleges in Wales, which study for an University of Wales degree. It is a tragedy that a politically motivated BBC programme and a rather hapless PR team at University of Wales have managed to undermine all the efforts of all the academicians and threaten the future of all its students so callously.

I am fascinated by the fact that NCFE and ATHE can get away scot-free. They accredited institutions without fixed offices and questionable people which were selling these diplomas, and they can get away with suspending these colleges as if they were exceptions. However, since the University of Wales accepted these diplomas for advanced standing entry, the whole University validation has to be dismantled, and everyone involved with University of Wales must hang their head in shame. However, what about Ofqual, which validated these qualifications in the first place, and allowed them to be mapped against University entry? We know why BBC Wales will not expose the scam that goes on in British diploma market: It does not fit their agenda. But that's where the scandal really is.

British HE is at a crossroad and this scandal does not help. Most importantly, this story will confirm the popular view, created and sustained by motivated journalism, that most HE institutions are just conduits of visa fraud and most international students in Britain are nothing but after a work permit. Both of these perceptions are false. The government is currently systematically undermining the British HE, and they would be delighted with this programme.  The government's grand plan of making HE limited to Oxbridge and disenfranchising the British Working Class from having a shot at middle class life has worked so far: They would need more such great journalism from BBC to keep their demolition campaign going.

2 comments:

  1. Well, we have somebody criticising a biased view with yet a more biased view. This person goes as far as saying: 'The government is currently systematically undermining the British HE, and they would be delighted with this programme'. As a person working in private education, I have witnessed the focus on students on menial jobs and not on study. I have masters graduates needing references to drive taxis! And that is not the exception but the rule in private colleges. Is it trying to put a stop undermining HE education. First of all, facts must be put right. Then he adds: 'The government's grand plan of making HE limited to Oxbridge' Well, I can tell you that I know many universities that are prospering and that will benefit with a good clean up of the system. The last bit is frankly cheap political comment for somebody who is calling himself an academic: 'and disenfranchising the British Working Class from having a shot at middle class life has worked so far'. Well, I do not know how the British working class is going to benefit when immigrants on a Post Study work visa take the menial jobs that are supposed to go to struggling students or young people.

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  2. Hi

    First of all, thanks for dropping by.

    I am not sure you fully appreciate what an immigrant student may have to go through when they try to live in a different country. Suddenly, their past experiences and academic credentials come to nothing, and instead of falling back of benefits of some kind, or complaining about the problems of life and work, they have to find their ways, be it through driving taxis. Remember, a vast majority of Britain's new entrepreneurs come from among the immigrants, and entrepreneurship may indeed start with what you call 'menial jobs'. I would loath to stereotype the students I serve, many of them as academically capable as any I have known.

    It is interesting that you can find universities that are prospering. I am sure most of them will start losing 10% of their numbers starting next year, and will be in a hopeless battle with Oxbridge for the AABs. I am sure that does not bode well for the middle-ranking universities, exactly the ones that seem to be prospering now.

    Finally, stealing work is somewhat better than stealing benefits, and if we have to believe in markets and competition as the route to efficiency, I am not sure why we should think that Post Study Work is what makes the foreigners steal all the jobs. If we claim to live in a global world, it is not just global flow of capital, but the globalization of labour that we have to live with. I am not sure that this is necessarily bad for the British working class: This is a reality of our time.

    What is bad is that their own ruling class seem to be demonizing them and excluding them from the table.

    Supriyo

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Hi! I appreciate your comments - as this post was intended to start a conversation. I pledge to reply to every comment posted - and do come back again so that we can carry on talking.

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