The British university system has changed somewhat since I was a student. For a start, in my time at Sussex University I got a "grant". Admittedly then only around 12% of the nation's youth went to university, and now that it is "uni" that fraction is nearer 50%. There have been a number of articles published in the world's newspapers, especially The Independent recently, to the effect that standards in our higher education system which was once the envy of the world are not great now, largely due to the allowance of individual universities to award their own degree classifications. Accepted that there are external examiners appointed to confirm the validity of such grades, but they are all in the same boat, and so one is urged to wonder.
As is true (...so it is claimed) of the school system which now awards numerous "A" grades at A-level, this miracle is accomplished by teaching to the exam-paper. In my days as a university professor in physical chemistry, had I not followed a similar practice most of the students (customers) would have failed and it would have all been my fault for my rotten teaching. That said, I still give some lectures when invited and I get invited back, so I can't be all that bad in expressing the fundamentals. In other words, you don't exactly tell them what the exam questions are but you make pretty darned certain that they have similar calculations in their lecture notes to refer to.
Otherwise it would inter supra be chaos, as attested to the fact that on one occasion I set coursework for 14 students, gave them the formulas and received 14 different answers even though all they had to do was put the numbers in. "How do you know that?", I was often asked. "I just worked it out." I said. "What, in your head." "Yeah." Now this is just school-level stuff mostly, but I was taught to read and write and do sums and I thank the British education system for this. Everything else was down to my own efforts - broken home, general instability and leaving school at age 16... but at least I could read, write and do sums... the "3 r's", if you include aRithmetic.
The British university system, in its vast expansion of student numbers, also has many readers and professors. For those not familiar with how this is supposed to work, the mechanism is something like this: a lecturer dispenses the knowledge of their specialist subject; a reader is supposed to know the wider subject through their own research activities and publish them in a decent medium, and a professor to indeed profess, and dispense new knowledge. Not any more. This is indeed both a travesty and a disgrace.
Not in some of the newer universities, where a professor may have no published work even in the subject they are supposed to be professor of, although the title is given e.g. "Professor of Chemical Education", but in this age of irony, the suffix "Education" is the typical cop-out of any standards. There are also readers who do no and have never done any research, but then in other English-speaking countries there are people with a third-class degree running universities and telling the professors what to do - such is this enlightened age too of "management".
So, when mum and dad can't keep the kids at "uni" any more, what will become of the uni's? Surely it is time that the higher education system was adjusted to meet the needs of a nation, rather than allowing the market forces to decide how many bums on seats each has and hence their allocation of funding. This is the fault, as is the re-labelling of institutions as universities which are of no such item. In the age to come - the Oil Dearth Era (beyond Peak Oil) - we will really need people to know "stuff". The ex-polys will, if sense prevails, be restored to their good and proper role that they did so well as technical colleges which teach a young citizen to become a good plumber, electrician, engineer, cook or farmer - all the things that will be an essential part of the "world made by hand" as James Howard Kunstler entitled his novel, about human survival without oil, rather than churning out 50% of "graduates" who struggle to read and write correctly and certainly can't do sums. How many pharmacists or media studies graduates does Britain really need?
It is poignant too that all our "graduates" end up with a debt of around £15,000 now, in an accumulation of student-loans and top-up fees for this "privilege" - an indelicate situation, given the current condition of the economy.
However, the university system keeps everyone quiet in the illusion of progress while the reality of no more cheap oil - or food or fuel, in consequence - is a dirty fantasy.