Prime minister Theresa May has launched a review of tuition fees, whilst calling for better value for students. The review will be chaired by the author and financier, Phillip Augar and will assess the current state of university funding.
Concerns Over Expensive Tuition Fees
The review of university funding is set to last for a year, with the prime minister has warning that the current system has failed to “deliver sufficient competition on price” and that the “level of fees charged do not relate to the cost or quality of the course”. Currently, England has the most expensive tuition fees in the world. Students are now charged £9,250 per year, with interest rates of up to 6.1%.
Students, along with their parents and grandparents, have expressed serious concern about the cost of attending university. Tuition fees are temporarily frozen at the current price and will like likely remain that way for at least another year during the review. However, there are no indications of any radical cuts in fees – an action that students are asking for the most.
Criticisms from Labour
Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner has been highly critical of the review. Rayner has labelled it as an “unnecessary waste of time” which demonstrates that “Theresa May has finally admitted that her government got it wrong”.
Labour have stated that it would abolish tuition fees and reinstate maintenance grants. However, the prime minister has stated that she doesn’t intend to scrap fees, because doing so would increase taxes for those who didn’t attend university. During her speech in Derby, May established her ongoing commitment to the principle of students “who benefit directly from higher education should contribute directly towards the cost of it”.
There is the additional concern that universities would have to compete for funding with schools and hospitals; the outcome of which would be a limit on the number of university places.
More Flexibility is Needed
Education Secretary Damian Hinds has highlighted that fees and courses require more improvements that go beyond price. Hinds has stressed that fees require more variety, rather than all courses and universities charging the same maximum amount.
Additionally, more flexibility is required for the delivery of courses, such as two-year degrees or encouraging “computer degrees”. This would help students who live at home and make studying easier for part-time students or those who work whilst completing their degree.
Poorer Students Are Still Left Worse Off
Along with expensive tuition fees, students are also concerned with the cost of living whilst undertaking their courses. During 2017, maintenance grants were abolished leaving students worse off. Poorer students are greatly affected by rising university costs, despite May’s acknowledgment that such students should have an “equal chance in higher education”.
Poorer students are offered larger loans to help with living costs, compared to better-off students who are expected to receive help from their parents. Nevertheless, poorer students are still vulnerable because they will have the greatest burden of debt.