Outgoing PM calls on successor to slash student fees

30 May 19

Cut tuition fees to £7,500 a year and reinstate maintenance grants, Theresa May has urged in backing a government-commissioned review.

In a speech today, the outgoing prime minister Theresa May endorsed the findings of the Augar Review, which also suggested loan repayment periods should be extended from 30 to 40 years.

The report, led by Philip Augar looking at post-18 education in England, also recommended that interest rates while students study should be lowered. Interest rates should remain based on inflation plus 3% for graduates, Augar said in his review, also released today.

At the launch event, May said there is “much to be said” for the proposals and admitted “removing maintenance grants from the least well-off students has not worked, and I believe it is time to bring them back”.

May, who will not be able to alter higher education policies as she is resigning as prime minister next Friday, warned that scrapping fees altogether would be “socially regressive” and would force the government to introduce a cap on student numbers.

“But reducing the cost of higher education would make a real difference to many students. And we should also be more upfront about what that cost will actually be,” she added.

Augar - separately - said: “Our proposals are designed to build on the considerable achievements of our universities – one of the UK’s world class industries – with a particular focus on the economy’s needs and improving value for money for students and taxpayers.

“We also seek to rebuild further education, for too long the Cinderella sector, and see technical and vocational education as a means of addressing the country’s skills gaps.”

The review recommended that loan repayments only commence when a graduate is earning over £23,000 compared to the current rate of £25,000. 

The student fees would reduce to £,7500 per annum from £9,250 from 2021-22. This fee would be frozen until 2023-24, after which it would rise with inflation, the report suggested.

Augar concluded that higher education in England is a “story of both care and neglect” as only 50% of young people participate in higher education.

“The panel believes that this disparity simply has to be addressed. Doing so is a matter of fairness and equity and is likely to bring considerable social and economic benefits to individuals, employers and the country at large,” he added.

Jack Britton, senior economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank, said: “The recommendations for higher education are a move to a more tightly regulated system.

“The increased control over government spending on higher education is welcome, but the changes come at the cost of reducing the progressivity of the student loan system, with the highest earning graduates benefiting the most from the proposed changes, while lower and middle earning graduates will be squeezed.”

Education secretary Damian Hinds said: “There are very high quality courses across the full range of subjects, from creative arts to medicine – but there are also courses where value, in its widest sense, is not being delivered either to students of to taxpayers, who also make a sizeable contribution. We need to address this so everyone can be sure they’re getting the best standard.” 

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