Last week, the government commissioned Augar review of post-18 education recommended that; the tuition fee cap be reduced to £7500 and maintenance grants be reintroduced for those from lower income backgrounds.
These recommendations mark the end of a one year process, which began in February 2018, where the Prime Minister commissioned a wide ranging independent review of post-18 education. The review, chaired by Dr Phillip Augar, was tasked with driving up quality, increasing choice and ensuring value for money are at the heart of post-18 education. Significantly, it was tasked with creating a proposal which could be implemented within the framework of the Government’s fiscal policy.
The review was wide ranging and made a number of significant proposals. In addition to recommending a reduction in fees, and the reintroduction of maintenance grants for lower income students, the review suggested:
- The repayment threshold should be reduced from £25,725 to £23,000
- The repayment period should be increased from 30 to 40 years
- ‘The OfS should examine the cost of student accommodation more closely and work with students and providers to improve the quality and consistency of data about costs, rents, profits and quality’.
- Any loss of University income from reduced fees should be made up by direct government funding
- The government should introduce a Lifelong learning loan allowance (equal to 4 years of undergraduate fees) which could be used for vocational or academic courses at any stage of an adult’s career for full and part-time students.
The impact of the proposals as a package is quite mixed. The reintroduction of maintenance grants will reduce the psychological barrier that people from lower income backgrounds face when considering attending University. Further, the recommendation for the cost of University accommodation to be scrutinised is likely to benefit all student for whom the cost of rent is a major burden.
This said, the impact of the proposals as a whole are likely to negatively impact (mainly female) graduates on moderate incomes, who will end up paying more for their degree than under the present system. This is due to the reduction in the repayment threshold from £25,725 to £23,000 and the lengthening of the repayment period from 30 to 40 years.
Ranjeet Rathore, President of the Union of Brunel Students, stated that “We welcome the recommendation of the Augar review to reintroduce maintenance grants for students from lower income backgrounds. As noted by the NUS Poverty Commission, people who have grown up in lower income households are more psychologically deterred from University because of the burden of debt. We also welcome the suggestion that the Office for Students should scrutinise the cost of University accommodation”
However, with regards to the post-18 education system as a whole, the Union believes the report simply tweaks the edges of a system that needs a radical overhaul. Education is a right, not a privilege hence should be fully funded by the state. If the government increased tax on corporations and the wealthy, scrapped Trident or reduced military spending, billions of pounds could be made available to fund free education and other vital public services.
If you want to find out more about the Augar Review, and its implications for post-18 education, we suggest looking at the WONKHE and the National Union of Students website for further news, views and analysis.