An independent review led by former banker Dr Philip Augar has recommended university tuition fees should drop to £7,500, but students should pay back their loans for a decade longer, bringing the total loan repayment time from 30 to 40 years.
The Post-18 Education and Funding review, known as the Augar review, also recommended the government scrap funding for foundation years, reintroduce means-tested maintenance loans and only start charging students interest rates with 3% added to the basic level of inflation once they have graduated.
The Prime Minister Theresa May said the report is “a ground-breaking piece of work”.
“When, in 2012, the tuition fee cap was raised to £9,000 most predictions were that the full amount would only be charged by the top universities for the highest quality and most prestigious and potentially lucrative degrees,” she said.
The Prime Minister added: “The vast majority of degrees are now set at the maximum fee – and the panel’s report rightly questions whether that is acceptable.”
The Augar review said its “proposals to lower the maximum student fees to £7,500 and to reintroduce maintenance grants for students from low-income households would reduce upfront student debt.”
A decrease in tuition fees and the removal of interest rates during study may benefit some students in the short-term. Yet by increasing the time period for student loan repayments many students may end up paying more than they currently would.
The UEA Vice Chancellor David Richardson said: “These proposals mean that the average student will end up paying more, not less, and that is regressive and not in the best interests of people who want to study at university.”
The review also suggested the government should remove funding for foundation year courses. The review said: “It is hard not to conclude that universities are using foundation years to create four-year degrees in order to entice students who do not otherwise meet their standard entry criteria.”
UEA Vice Chancellor David Richardson said: “UEA will argue strongly that foundation years are a successful means of widening participation and access.”
The Vice Chancellor believes that to remove foundation years “would be a backwards step.”
Alongside this the review recommended student finance should no longer be offered to those studying foundation year courses. As tuition fees for foundation years can be anything up to £9,250 the removal of funding may reduce the number of students who would be able to enrol on foundation year courses. The review suggested universities replace foundation year courses with a cheaper alternative, known as an Access to Higher Education Diploma to encourage students from low-income families to attend university. UEA Vice Chancellor David Richardson said if these recommendations become policy the university “might need to look at partnership work with [Further Education] colleges around access courses.”
By Jess Barrett (Deputy Editor)
The Augar review’s dismissal of the importance of foundation year courses has come as quite a surprise. As a student who has taken a foundation year course, I advocate the importance of such courses. They provide opportunities to students who may not have done so well at their A levels but who still strive to succeed at university.
As part of my foundation year course there were requirements in place to ensure that we would be able to keep up with our chosen undergraduate course and its academic demands. This ensured that all students were worthy of being at university. The recommendations made by the Augar review implies foundation years are a financial burden on universities and completely ignores the fact they are extremely important in offering students a stepping stone into higher education, especially for those who are from low-income families.
Another recommendation of the Augar review is the reintroduction of means-tested maintenance loans. The move has been received well by many people.
UEA Vice Chancellor David Richardson said: “UEA has always argued that maintenance grants and/or loans would be a welcome step forward and would help support students from less wealthy backgrounds.”
Kasper Hassett is a first year English literature with creative writing student. He believes means-tested grants are a necessity. He said: “Removing maintenance grants in favour of loans was another reason for working-class young people to avoid higher education.
“Means-based grants are necessary for there to be any hope of making universities more diverse, though ultimately they should be raised significantly to make university not only manageable, but appealing for those who have spent their lives so far focused on short-term survival.”
He added: “University usually results in a career which builds up gradually – it requires patience, the ability to rely on family for support, stability and comfort, the latter three of which cannot often be taken for granted for working-class young people.”
In an interview with Concrete earlier this year Norwich South MP Clive Lewis said the Augar review was “leading to uncertainty” about possible cuts in student numbers and the future existence of some universities. Mr Lewis said it was one of a number of factors that “adds to people’s feeling of unease”.
The review’s recommendations will only affect students entering higher education in 2021/22 at the earliest, and both houses of Parliament will have to approve changes to tuition fees.
Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, said the Augar review is “all talk, empty promises and very little action”, and that “staff and students deserve better”.