The enormous sums spent by many universities on marketing should come as no surprise (Report, 3 April). Nor should the fact that it is mostly the less prestigious institutions that are doing most of the spending. Like grade inflation, the rise in unconditional offers and vastly inflated vice-chancellors’ salaries, it is the direct, foreseeable and foreseen consequence of the marketisation that began with the removal of the subsidy for overseas students in 1980, as described in my 2013 book with Helen Carasso, Everything for Sale: The Marketisation of UK Higher Education.
Short of a wholesale reversal of such policies, the only solution is for the universities to agree, and the Office for Students to police, what share of their income to spend on activities that do not directly support student education. The fact that such an arrangement would be anathema to a neoliberal government shows only that they and their advisers fail to appreciate that markets in higher education are not economic markets, where the players compete for resources, but status markets, where the players compete for reputation, and where state action is needed to protect the “consumers” from the diversion of resources that such activities as marketing represent.
Prof Roger Brown
Former vice-chancellor of Solent University and former chief executive of the Higher Education Quality Council
• While individual universities are spending millions of pounds to recruit students, total debt in the higher education sector has trebled in recent years to nearly £11bn. At the same time there is a growing shortage of science, technology, engineering and maths graduates; too many students leaving university without essential employability skills; and a high proportion of graduates in jobs that don’t require degrees. All of this points to the failure of a “marketisation” policy which has created deep flaws in the HE system. Surely the time has come to move away from this laissez-faire, described by the all-party public accounts committee as a market that is not “working in the interest of students or taxpayers”. A more planned and needs-led approach to higher education would better serve the country’s skill requirements as well as graduates’ career prospects.
Author, Building a Learning Nation
• Universities and students are responding rationally to a crazy dysfunctional system created by successive governments (Hinds tells universities to halt ‘unethical’ unconditional offers to A-level students, 5 April). For the DfE to castigate them for doing so only adds insult to injury.
Prof Trevor Curnow
• Join the debate – email firstname.lastname@example.org
• Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters
• Do you have a photo you’d like to share with Guardian readers? Click here to upload it and we’ll publish the best submissions in the letters spread of our print edition