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Is another tuition fee hike on the horizon? May 11, 2015

Posted by AaronPorter in Uncategorized.
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Originally posted on Progress website:

http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2015/05/11/is-another-tuition-fee-hike-on-the-horizon/

Is another tuition fee hike on the horizon?

In 2010, the first big flashpoint for the coalition government was the very public and very brutal, at least for the Liberal Democrats, clash over whether to increase tuition fees. The independent Browne review suggested no fee cap whatsoever. The Liberal Democrat manifesto had promised their abolition, the National Union of Students campaign pledge signed by all Liberal Democrat candidates opted for a freeze on fees and the Tories had not really said anything at all. Eventually the coalition opted for a fee cap of £9,000 a year, the Liberal Democrats broke their promise and the rest, as they say, is history, a bit like most of the Liberal Democrats members of parliament who broke the pledge.

But as soon as the vote to increase fees squeezed through parliament, passed by 21 votes, it became clear that issues of sustainability were coming to the fore. The resource accounting and budgeting charge for the new fee regime continued to rise steadily, and well beyond projections from BIS. By the end of the parliament, the latest figures suggested that for every £1 loaned to a student, 48p would never be paid back. Figures from the public accounts committee suggest that by 2042, the tuition fee black hole could be as big as £90bn, a system which critics described as costing students and the taxpayer more money than the previous regime, while part-time enrolments fell by 40 per cent during the last five years and universities are, privately at least, very concerned about the first generation of £9k students and their willingness to stump up yet more fees for postgraduate courses.

Labour’s policy on tuition fees in the last parliament was always unclear. In their respective leadership campaigns, both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls suggested they preferred a graduate tax. During the fees debate in parliament the Labour position was simply that it opposed what the coalition was proposing and then after months and months of uncertainty and internal wrangling over the feasibility of a graduate tax, the manifesto finally opted for a reduction to £6,000. In opposition, Labour should have had an easy time criticising the coalition on tuition fees, but without a clear and compelling alternative it always felt like they did not exploit that advantage. Liam Byrne was impressive as the shadow minister for higher and further education. He engaged thoughtfully with the sector and seemed prepared to think about the wider challenges for universities beyond the headlines generated by tuition fees. When the Times Higher Education magazine polled academics just before the 2015 election, nearly 46 per cent cited they would back the Labour party. Byrne’s robust and evidence based approach will have been a large contributor to that. However, it was not clear that the thoughtfulness demonstrated by the shadow minister made its way into the Labour manifesto on higher education.

So against this backdrop, and with a strong body of opinion that higher education funding is already unsustainable and wider questions about regulation of the university system there will be some pressure to look at the question of tuition fees once again. Speaking at a post-election briefing hosted by Pearson and the Financial Times this morning, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA and formerly head of the Number 10 policy unit in the Blair years, suggested that a further increase in the fee cap would be likely this parliament. He went on to say, that it appeared the government really only listens to the Russell Group of universities and a number of their vice-chancellors have already gone on record as saying that the cap should increase further.

Whatever the new government might be thinking, Labour needs to be more thoughtful than simply arguing against whatever might be proposed. Labour’s approach needs to consider the interplay between schools, further and higher education policy, and the contribution that employers can make toward both funding and appropriately contributing to curriculum and assessment. There needs to be a credible position on funding, but that should not just focus solely on full time undergraduates. There is a crisis in part-time funding, and the postgraduate system is also under pressure and shows signs of being woefully underrepresented by those from non-traditional and working-class backgrounds, these all need to be taken into account.

The Labour party has much to be proud of for the way it oversaw a significant rise in students from the poorest background going to university and the development of a sustainable footing for British universities to compete with the best of the world during their time in government. But with new pressures ahead to find a sustainable funding model, the same level of thought needs to be given to universities once again.

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Thur 15 Sep: Guardian HE Network – First or Fail: Vince Cable and the UK economy September 15, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Tuition Fees.
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First or Fail: Vince Cable and the UK economy

This week, Vince Cable manages not to upset every vice-chancellor at the Universities UK conference but elsewhere it’s revealed the UK spends just 1.2% of its GDP on HE

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/sep/15/vince-cable-vice-chancellors-uk-gdp

Vince Cable Speaks At The Liberal Democrat Party Conference

Speaking out: Vince Cable didn’t upset everyone at the Universities UK conference this week, says Aaron Porter. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Who has had a good week (heading for a first) and who has had a bad week (heading for a fail)?

Heading for a First … Vince Cable

It’s been a rare week for Vince Cable: he hasn’t broken a pledge or reneged on another manifesto promise. But this week, he actually managed to get through Universities UK conference without upsetting every single vice-chancellor in the room – a feat he has sadly managed in previous public speeches to vice-chancellors, most notably at the HEFCE conference in Birmingham where he turned up over an hour late, delivered a withering, finger-wagging speech before refusing to take questions (which had previously been agreed) and was then left to eat his sandwiches alone as the conference full of vice-chancellors either politely ignored him or simply didn’t realise he’d stomped off alone.

But in a minor turnaround, the secretary of state managed to have a constructive dialogue with VCs at their annual conference at Royal Holloway. He will have been heartened further by news that, following the publication of the higher education white paper, a dozen or so as yet unnamed institutions have asked the Office for Fair Access about lowering their tuition fee. Although it still leaves the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills a long way short of its Treasury target – which erroneously predicted and budgeted for an average fee of £7,500 – it does at least provide the secretary of state with a shred of good news before the Liberal Democrat party conference in Birmingham later this month. Who knows, the Lib Dems could still reach double digits in the polls once again – but I’m not holding my breath.

Heading for a Fail … the UK economy

This week we heard news that the UK had slipped down yet another international league table. No, it wasn’t George Osborne having to revise our growth figures down again, or further bad news that youth unemployment has risen once more – both of which also happened – but it was news from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Its latest publication, Education at a Glance, showed that the UK has spent just 1.2% of its GDP on higher education, falling further behind the OCED average (1.5%).

Higher education spending may not have secured the same media coverage or political scrutiny as the growth figures or rising unemployment, but its link to both is significant. For a government so patently lacking a credible growth strategy, spending in higher education delivers more than £6 for every single £1 spent – but the problem for the coalition is the time lag before the return is realised. So, faced with long term growth, or the more immediate challenge of eliminating the deficit by the end of this Parliament, short-termism has triumphed once again.

It’s not often you get Wendy Piatt and Sally Hunt singing the same tune, but the reaction to this news from the OECD was one of those rare occasions where the Russell Group and the University and College Union were united. The Russell Group rightly pointed out that such diminishing public investment in higher education risks jeopardising the international reputation of our leading, and I would argue our entire, higher education system. Sally Hunt rightly pointed out that we need to re-emphasise the relationship between education and skills and our economy.

David Cameron is increasingly being accused of making the same mistakes as the Thatcher government of the 1980s. Given we saw a decade of cuts to our universities under the Iron Lady, it appears, when it comes to higher education spending, that accusation certainly holds true.

Thur 1 Sep: Guardian HE: First or fail: Campaign for Financial Education and 2012 university applicants September 2, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Tuition Fees.
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First or fail: Campaign for Financial Education and 2012 university applicants

Deserving recognition this week: a campaign to add financial education to the school curriculum; falling from favour, the students who can’t afford higher tuition fees

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/sep/01/first-or-fail-campaign-for-financial-edcation

 

abacus

Money Saving Expert, Martin Lewis has launched a campaign to get compulsory financial education into the school curriculum. Photograph: Toru Hanai/REUTERS

Aaron’s verdict on who has had a good week (heading for a first) and who has had a bad week (heading for a fail).

Heading for a first: campaign for financial education

With all the furore surrounding tuition fees, debt, loans and interest rates, very little thought has been given to the support, and crucially the education given to school pupils about finance and money. So with higher education funding rarely out of the headlines, Martin Lewis of the Money Saving Expert website has launched a campaign to get compulsory financial education into the school curriculum.

While higher education funding may have been the catalyst for the campaign, it’s evident that financial education wouldn’t be limited to information about that, in fact the plan would be to cover the basics of personal finance and consumer rights. Launching a petition on the government’s new e-petition website, Martin Lewis describes the current state of affairs as “a national disgrace that in the 20 years since introducing student loans, we’ve educated our youth into debt when they go to university, but never about debt. We’re a financially illiterate nation.” Strong words, but then again a comprehensive understanding of basic finance is an important issue. A wrong decision, or unchallenged misinformation can cost thousands.

Since launching the campaign, the e-petition has quickly passed more than 50,000 signatures. And with parliament giving consideration to a full debate on any petition that passes 100,000 sign ups, it’s already over half-way there.

In an economy that already requires an increasingly sophisticated understanding as to how to make the right financial decisions, this seems like a no-brainer to me. To add your name to the petition, you can sign up here.

Heading for a fail: 2012 university applicants

The government likes to claim they don’t understand the system and perhaps the financial education they receive isn’t up to scratch, but it doesn’t take a degree to realise that lots of potential university applicants for 2012 are going to be deterred from applying due to the hike in fees. The big question for universities, but also the government, is how many? Up until now, it’s been almost impossible to say with any authority how many fewer applicants we could see for the 2012 intake. Lessons from history show us that after the previous tuition fee rise, from £1,000 a year to £3,000, we saw a 5% drop for the 2006 intake. But that was quite a different reform that met with quite a different reaction and crucially was done at a time when there was record investment in the outreach infrastructure such as AimHigher. With that infrastructure gone and a hostile reaction on the streets and in the press, initial predictions have been for a drop of anywhere between 5% to 20% through university doors come 2012.

Anything approaching a double digit fall would be catastrophic for the coalition, and for the Liberal Democrats in particular, who are desperately hoping that their tuition fee car crash won’t cause them any more political damage. If the decrease is negligible, they will at least claim it hasn’t had the damaging impact many feared it would. However, it will do little to allay the concerns of thousands of students and their parents who still feel betrayed after their very public pledge signing, and then discarding. Anything approaching a 10% fall or more, will simply give more ammunition to the long-standing critics of the tuition fee trebling.

So this week, findings from the first major study into the applicant intentions from the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER), which surveyed over 1,000 secondary school pupils aged between 14 an 17, will make uncomfortable reading for the coalition. NFER’s headline was that 15% of pupils in school years 10 to 12 in England who were originally planning to go to university have now decided not to, 19% of school pupils have decided to only apply to universities charging less than the £9000 a year, and 26% said they will only apply to universities where they can live at home. But perhaps most shocking of all, was that 79% of respondents said that the tuition fee increase was forcing them to change their plans about future study in some form or another. It’s going to take more than a Simon Hughes sized sticking plaster to remedy this.

So the clock is ticking to see whether the findings from this research project will be translated into the real decline many predicted when the government first announced their plans, but if this is anything to go by, it does not look encouraging.

Open letter to Simon Hughes following his appointment as the Government’s ‘access advocate’ January 4, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in Uncategorized.
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An open letter to Simon Hughes on University Access.

5th January 2010

Dear Simon,

Congratulations on your appointment to the role of “Advocate for Access to Education”. Given the serious access problem we have in many of our elite Universities and the proposals to treble tuition fees by the Coalition it will be a challenging role – especially if it is to go beyond the kind of “window dressing” that the role has already been accused of. NUS has long called for there to be a more serious debate and attention paid to access into continued education, particularly with better information, advice and guidance given to prospective students. Alongside our member students’ unions we are fully committed to improving and widening university access and are ready and willing to assist in your efforts to ensure that university is opened up to anyone with the talent to achieve. Our 16-18 members in FE Colleges are keen to work with you on your research into the barriers to access they face.

To begin with, we have six recommendations:

First, we would recommend that the Government urgently clarifies its “National Scholarship Scheme”. On the weekend before the fees vote, the Government was claiming that pupils on free school meals would get a free first year at University. Now the Government has dropped that commitment- arguing instead that the scheme should consist of different packages, bid for by universities. Whilst we appreciate that the free school meals measure is only a narrow pool, it was precisely this kind of “postcode lottery” on student financial assistance that your manifesto commitment on bursaries was designed to scrap- so to avoid misleading students, getting the Government to come clean on its “free first year” offer would be a good start, and being clear about which students are now eligible for this support is imperative.

Second, you could hold the Government to its promise on the fee cap. You will know that ministers have repeatedly claimed that the higher limit would only apply in “exceptional” circumstances– but we are finding it hard to get the Government to explain how it will ensure that £9k rather than £6k fees will be the “exception”. Your efforts here could mean ensuring the Government doesn’t break another promise- this time one made repeatedly on the floor of the house.

Third, you could insist that universities do much more to promote access. At present universities are only routinely judged on applications from the poorest; but it is acceptances and completions (as well as achievement) that matter more. Insisting that the monitoring of access achievements gets tougher, and that the HE sector gets its act together on measures such as Post Qualifications Admissions (where students apply once they have their results) and Contextual Admissions (where applicants are judged on academic potential), could make a massive difference.

Fourth, you could insist that the Government reinstates AimHigher. Up until now the debate on access has focussed heavily on 17 and 18 year olds, but research in this area suggests intervention earlier in school is crucial. This is exactly what the AimHigher programme ensured, by funding to ensure meaningful links were built up between universities and schools. The programme has made a massive difference to aspiration to apply to university across the country and the decision to scrap it will only harm our shared cause to improve access, particularly at a time when the Coalition have trebled tuition fees.

Fifth, you would do well to suggest that the Government listens and responds to voices in the Muslim community making clear how damaging the changes to loan interest rates will be to access for this group. FOSIS (the Federation of Islamic Student Societies) have repeatedly made clear why the changes will be a problem but so far have had no contact from ministers or officials.

But sixth and most importantly, you could demand that the EMA is reinstated. Everyone agrees that the biggest factor in determining university access is achievement at Level 3- or A Level. So for Gove to axe it (having promised to keep it) on the most threadbare of evidence is astonishing, and will do more to harm university access than your role could ever fix. Officially, you only have the power to recommend how a £50m replacement for a £450m scheme is spent. Unofficially, you could make abundantly clear just how devastating for the poorest families the removal of the EMA will be to retention and achievement- and get it reinstated before it’s too late.

I fear that measures the Government have taken so far in office have been utterly counter-productive for social mobility, I hope that your appointment will start to see this reversed, and look forward to hearing back from you in relation to the role NUS can play to help you achieve this, and the six recommendations I have made above as an important start point.

Best wishes,

Aaron Porter
National President