The response to Augar – finally
After so many delays that it seemed to have been passed by completely, we finally got the response to the Augar review and the outcome of the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding.
You will recall that the Post-18 review was opened in February 2018 by Theresa May, and the Augar report was published in May 2019.
The reason for the delay is probably that they have been trying to tie it all in with the skills agenda, and the policy paper came out alongside a separate consultation on how to make the lifelong loan entitlement work. Some big questions in there, including how to drive modularity, sort out credit transfer, which was a Jo Johnson priority, and not least build something that will actually work.
The biggest Augar question of all was whether there would be a headline fee cut. And the answer is no, although the impact of the multi-year freeze is that there has been a big real terms cut, of course (Wonkhe suggest £9,250 is predicted to be worth a little over £6,000 by the end of the freeze period). And with the exception of foundation years, which will not be prohibited (as was suggested) but could see a fee cap of £5197, which is a big decrease from £9250. But a headline fee cut has been dropped at the expense of student number controls, which could be applied by subject at different providers, and could be linked to student outcomes such as earnings or highly skilled employment. This links directly to the new regulatory and TEF structures which are being consulted on now.
And of course minimum entry requirements, which have been trailed for a long time and are being consulted on now.
Wonkhe told us that there was criticism in the House of Lords of these new proposals: You can read the full debate on Hansard.
There is a House of Commons Library briefing here.
One thing that is interesting is how open the consultations are – with very open questions about how the student number control might apply and the LLE in particular.
The consultations close on 6th May 2022.
The first announcement is that the work on post-qualification admissions or post-qualification applications will not proceed, following the consultation. The DfE will instead work with UCAS and sector bodies on best practice and steps to ensure fairness in admissions – including reducing the use unconditional offers, improving transparency and reviewing the personal statement.
The second set of announcements, which are not for consultation, relate to changes to student loan arrangements for new students starting in Autumn 2023 and afterwards. The repayment threshold will be frozen for existing students (post 2012) and postgraduate students and the interest rate will not change
For new HE students commencing study from AY2023/24 onwards:
- Reducing the rate of interest in and after study to RPI+0% (currently RPI +3%) to ensure that, under these terms, students do not repay more than they borrow in real terms.
- Reducing the repayment threshold to £25,000 then increasing annually in-line with RPI from FY2027-28
- Extending the loan repayment term to 40 years (currently 30 years).
The IFS review is interesting in terms of the impact on lower earners. They have also spotted that there is a subtle change that impacts current borrowers too:
- After being frozen until the 2026/27 fiscal year, the student loan repayment threshold will in the future be indexed to RPI inflation instead of average earnings.
- … This change also applies to borrowers under the current system (2012-2022 university starters). It is a massive retrospective change in repayment conditions that will hit middling earners the most.
Announcements on HE funding:
- Increasing the Strategic Priorities Grant by an additional £300 million, on top of existing recurrent grant funding, as well as providing £450 million of capital funding, including to support high-cost subjects such as sciences, medicine, and engineering; and level 4 and 5 provision.
- … freezing maximum tuition fees at £9,250, up to and including AY2024/25.
- Fees for foundation years to be capped at £5197 (currently £9250). This is subject to consultation including on possible exceptions, such as by subject (e.g. medicine).
- Introducing a new scheme worth £75m for state scholarships for talented disadvantaged students. This is also subject to consultation with questions about how to set eligibility requirements.
Consultation: reintroducing student number controls: The government is considering reintroducing student number controls to “restrict the supply of provision with poorer outcomes”. They are considering:
- provider level restrictions as a share of an overall sector cap – as we had before 2015 and briefly considered in the pandemic
- provider level caps with exceptions for some subjects based on criteria to be agreed
- provider level caps set for specific subjects based on student outcome metrics
- provider level caps set for specific subjects based on overall outcomes at that provider
- exceptions to caps for particular subjects (uncapped or controlled growth) or for types of study (e.g. level 4 and 5 or modular study)
To support this the government is considering using economic outcomes (earnings, highly skilled employment, continuation or completion), societal factors (e.g. subjects with a public benefit such as healthcare or education) or outcomes linked to strategic priorities (such as subjects that support the net zero objective, levelling up or shortage occupations).
Consultation: minimum eligibility requirements: As has been trailed for a long time, the government is consulting on minimum entry requirements to limit access to HE. They are consulting on a requirements for a pass (grade 4) in GCSE in English and Maths, or the equivalent of 2 E grades at A level. These would not apply to mature students (over 25), part-time students, those with a level 4 or 5 qualification or students with an integrated foundation year or Access to HE qualification. If they apply the GCSE requirement it would not apply to someone who has subsequently achieved A levels at CCC or equivalent.
- The government announced that students studying higher technical qualifications from 2023 will be able to access student finance and maintenance loans.
- The government has asked the OfS to strongly encourage suppliers to set targets for technical education and part-time study.
- They are consulting on the barriers to growth in this area, including questions about price differentials between FE and HE and value for money.
- They are consulting on how to support more modular learning in technical qualifications.
Lifelong Learning Entitlement consultation: This separate consultation incudes questions about how to implement changes to support lifelong learning accounts and support the provision of modules of study at levels 4-6 for this purpose. The consultation includes questions about how such a system should work, how to ensure that it is fair, what should be covered, how to define a module and set prices according to credit, what restrictions would apply (e.g. linked to age), how to support maintenance costs in such a system, and how to support credit recognition and transfer.
On Wonkhe, Gavan Conlon and Andrew McGettigan look at how the government make it all add up:
- The proposals are trumpeted as if they generate huge cost savings and put the loan scheme on a sustainable footing. That’s not really the case.
- Using London Economics’ modelling, under the old discount rate, the current student support arrangements cost the Exchequer £10.63 billion in economic terms. Under the new discount rate, it’s £7.23 billion. The proposals themselves save the Exchequer approximately £539 million (old discount rate), but essentially, when we model the apparent cost savings from the proposals and the change in the discount rate, we get about £4.0 billion of savings combined. That’s really not playing by the rules, especially when an obscure and obscured technical change accounts for approximately 85 percent of the apparent saving.
Also on Wonkhe, Steve West notes the impact of the freeze on the tuition fee cap and SNCs.
- The OfS have confirmed that, with minor changes, the regulatory changes to the B licence conditions that were consulted on in 2021 will come into force on 1st May.
- As noted previously, the consultation on condition B3, student outcomes, the consultation on the Teaching Excellence Framework, and the accompanying consultation on metrics close on 7th March.
- There is an interesting article by Myles-Jay Linton on Wonkhe about research on students giving permission for their family to be contacted in a mental health emergency.
- HEPI have a report on zero-tolerance approaches to drug use at universities, suggesting that such approaches may do more harm than good.
Before the announcement that post-qualification admissions is dead (see above) the Universities Minister hinted at the alternative approach set out in the policy announcements – i.e. a big focus on ensuring fairness by other means. The Minister gave a speech at a UCAS event championing quality, fair access and transparency. The Minister suggested that the sector was playing a defensive game “we cannot expect to be able to sit back and quietly polish our world-class reputation in a globalised higher education market”.
Which led onto, you guessed it, stamping out complacency. The usual stat about 25 providers with less than half their students both completing and going into highly skilled employment or study. But this time we get more:
- There are 5 providers with drop-out rates above 40% in Business and Management; 8 providers with drop-out rates above 40% in Computing, and 4 providers where fewer than 60% of Law graduates go on to graduate jobs or further study
So far, so familiar. Except that this time the focus has moved away from arts and humanities, which is interesting.
But “today, I am announcing a further important innovation in our drive toward better quality and transparency to put students in the driving seat enabling them to make informed choices”.
What could this be? It’s about advertising.
- one advert I have seen suggests a particular psychology course gives students access to their state-of-the-art research facilities, but it doesn’t state that one third of their psychology students drop out prior to completing their degree.
- Of course, it is absolutely legitimate and right for a university to promote its best features, whether that is a high NSS score, the friendliness of its campus or its distinctive style of teaching. But that is not a reason not to give applicants the hard facts.
- This is about focussing on empowering students and recognising that significant financial and time commitments should be sold transparently when it comes to quality.
- So as of today, I am asking that all adverts in next year’s admissions cycle – whether they are online, on a billboard or in a prospectus – take the simple, easy step of providing comparable data on the percentage of students who have completed that course, and the percentage of them who have gone into either professional employment or further advanced study.
- …That’s why I will be convening an advisory group, with representatives of UUK, GuildHE, UCAS and the OfS amongst others, so that we can put out guidance on this matter by the end of spring, in time for the coming application cycle.
And there’s more:
- I have always felt that personal statements in their current form favour the most advantaged students.
- So I’m pleased that UCAS have confirmed that reform of the personal statement is in their plans so that personal statements works to the benefit of all students. And I look forward to working with them on this important reform.
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