Brexit raises the risk of bankruptcy, but never forget the vice chancellors who put us in this mess

Brexit Day has rolled round and the drama shows no sign of abating. But there are a few things we know for certain about Brexit and Higher education.

Firstly, if EU student enrolment falls by 50 percent, as some have estimated, more universities will go the way of SOAS – towards financial crisis.

Secondly, regardless of leave or remain, our rents and tuition fees will rise.

And finally, vice chancellors will keep slurping six-figure salaries at a free market poker table and act as if they hadn’t seen it coming.

This worries everyone: EU student applications are already four percent lower compared to before the referendum and a disproportionately large three-year fall in UK student enrolments.

But why does this even matter? Because university bosses made a bet that endless tuition fee expansion could feed endless real estate procurement. A case in point: UCL bosses notoriously angered professors with a loan-financed £1.25 billion expansion in east London, and pondered if they could grow to 60,000 students. Nationally, UK universities owe more than £10 billion. Who pays the interest? That’s right – those tuition fees the vice chancellors lobbied the Tories to raise.

Convinced that market competition would improve universities, top managers not only smacked students with personal debt and interest, but maxed out colleges’ (i.e. our) credit too. The result? Glossy conference centres and £285pw halls no one asked for popping up all over London. The problem in a competition like this is that once you are in your only chance of not going bust is expansion. To them, it is “eat, or be eaten”.

Did anyone ask us if we wanted a Las Vegas education economy where universities could go bust right in the middle of our degrees, while a few Russell Group bureaucrats race to become the monopoly?

So next time your vice chancellor or provost emails you a grovelling video about how much they have written to the government over Brexit, remember: they wanted to turn higher education into a casino. They bought poker chips for our tuition fees in the belief that endless growth in student numbers could mean endless real estate speculation. And they are the ones putting up your rent in halls and keeping down staff wages to pay the interest on this gamble.

In the long-term, neither soft nor hard Brexit, nor the EU can break this vicious circle. Making education and housing free at the point of use and management democratically accountable will.


Opinion Editor. Cambridge History PhD student.

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