"It’s an impactful and sensible HE review we need not a political point scorer…"


Dan Beynon, Head of Education for SMRS, talks to Ri5 about the review of HE funding in England

It was a weekend for the Wonks as Higher Education once again made it to the very top of the news agendas on all our flagship programmes on Sunday and Monday. However after the interviews and the political posturing has died down there will now be a crucially important review of HE funding in England that will have ramifications across the whole of the UK.

There’s been some fantastic analysis over the last 48 hours of the choices facing the sector, the government and their review body. Wonkhe as always leads the way and if you have some time it would be worth reading Mark Leach’s guide to some common mistakes made when we are discussing the sector’s options .

One of the ideas being flagged by various government representatives across the studios was the idea that Universities are setting their tuition fee rate too high at £9,250 and that there should be greater differentiation between the fee rate for different courses and institutions. In isolation this idea seems worthy of consideration and matches a devotion to the market and the power of choice. But this is where the dynamics of the UK HE market need closer inspection. Differential fees based on what? The fact that it costs more to deliver STEM related courses than Arts courses? The fact that individual courses are popular? The fact that the UK needs a workforce with certain skillsets? The students studying all courses at a University enable the delivery of the courses that are more expensive to provide. If you charge more for STEM courses than arts courses then students may indeed choose cheaper options (the market!) but that will create a whole range of other serious challenges in relation to social mobility, widening participation and graduate outcomes. Johnny Rich provided a great twitterstream of insight on this situation here and it’s worth reading all 13 posts! 

It seems to me that the situation the government faces around the funding of Higher Education is actually not flush with loads of workable different options and there must be a much wider focus for the review. Firstly UK Universities need funding and they currently get a significant amount of that funding from the tuition fees system. If the review recommends cuts to tuition fees then we need to see a very clear commitment as to how that income will be replaced. Otherwise we will see fewer universities and a new number cap introduced by stealth. We need a commitment to funding that will stand the tests of the next few years as demands on the Treasury will intensify. Secondly the repayment of tuition fee loans based on earnings is as fair a system as we will find. It might be better to consider changing some of the terminology (don’t say loans say graduate contribution) but not the system. And if you haven’t read Martyn Lewis on this then please do so (and share this explanation) here.

Thirdly let’s be serious about social mobility and widening participation and explore maintenance grants more closely. Wales have made some good cross-party decisions on HE funding in this area and we could do with some of that spirit in Westminster. Lastly let’s explore how we can inject life into the part-time and mature student market and the continuing development of institutions (universities, colleges or buisnesses) that offer more vocational and technology related courses.


Wednesday, 21 February 2018

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