It may be the recess, but not everyone is away, and the discussion on fees and funding, and other things, continues, as we speculate when the “autumn” is and how soon before Christmas we will get the interim report from Philip Augar on the Review of Post-18 Education.
Student fees and funding
Given the importance of this issue, we have prepared a (fairly length) summary of the latest position on fees and funding and we are updating it regularly. You can read the latest version on the intranet here.
Lessons from Wales – HEPI have issued a policy note on the new student funding arrangements in Wales. Somewhat controversially, in the light of the Augar review, it challenges the approach taken in Wales. It notes the plaudits for the new regime:
- for the evidence-based way in which it has been put together;
- for attempting to build consensus around a sustainable system;
- for rebalancing upfront public spending towards living costs;
- for its progressive universalism, with all students entitled to a maintenance grant;
- for protecting the income of higher education institutions;
- for the continued transferability of support for students studying outside Wales; and
- for treating part-time and postgraduate students more equitably.
But it also flags that there are losers as well as winners, and that the political spin may be “hampering wider understanding of how it works”. The challenge is that student loans will be increasing in Wales – going in the opposite direction to the one that many are calling for in England.
- All students will receive maintenance support of £9000 a year. The previous system was a mixture of means tested grants and loans, with a smaller maximum loan. This may help students from lower income families who have access to more cash, but overall the government will be funding or subsidising more of the maintenance cost for students. Cutting the parental contribution to student maintenance costs is not something we have seen supported widely in England as part of the Augar review (except for low income families).
- The balance of loans and grants is also changing. All students will receive a grant of at least £1000, and for students from the very lowest earning households, this grant will increase to £8100, with a loan of £900 per year for maintenance.
- The overall student loans, taking into account tuition fee loans as well All students will receive tuition fee loans for £9000 per year (tuition fees in Wales did not go up to £9250). Tuition fees were previously around £4000 per year. So all Welsh students will have bigger loans overall, even those from the lowest earning households. But the change is much bigger for those from higher earning households (an 85% increase). And of course it is income contingent like the UK system and the amounts will still be less than England.
So Nick Hillman flags some challenges to the system:
- First, while the over-riding principle of income-contingent student loan systems is that the amount you pay depends on your earnings after leaving university, upfront means-testing means the total amount you are left owing depends a great deal on your parental income.
- This can make for rough edges: someone who comes from a poor family and ends up as a millionaire will owe much less than someone who comes from a rich family but ends up in averagely-paid employment.
- Parental income continues to be central to the new system of student support in Wales, despite the fact that all students are entitled to the same tuition fee loan and the same cash-in-hand support for maintenance, and despite the fact that the new Welsh system avoids the worst feature of the English system whereby the poorest students take on the largest debts.
- Secondly, because different parents in similar income brackets have varying propensities to support their student children, even people from similar backgrounds will be left with different levels of debt.
- …Put simply, some middle-class students will feel obliged to borrow the maximum loan entitlement to live and others will not because their parents will subsidise them directly, leaving students from similar backgrounds with very different levels of debt.
- …But none of this should obscure the fact that the clearest winners from the new package could be parents, who are no longer under the same expectation to contribute. This could be said to fly in the face of widespread concerns about inter-generational fairness and the need to do more to support young people using resources accrued by older generations.
- …Thirdly, although the Welsh support package is regarded as progressive for treating students from poorer families more generously than students from richer families, its level of progressivity depends on your comparator. The poorest students in Wales will actually be worse off in terms of cash-in-hand under the new system compared to the old one.
So what does this mean for the Augar review? If they are considering reintroducing maintenance grants then the progressive approach of the Welsh system may be attractive.
Just to note on part-time students, the new Welsh system is said to be better than in England. However, on the basis of our quick calculations, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between what you can get in England and Wales for a part-time course. But of course in Wales, part of it is a grant.
Change the context not the structure
Jim Dickinson argues in a blog for Wonkhe that if free tuition is unaffordable and the graduate tax unworkable, then some other things need to change:
- Making the public subsidy explicit – instead of hiding it behind the language of debt
- Stop talking about debt when it isn’t, because it’s income contingent and time limited
- Reduce the costs of student accommodation – it’s a housing crisis not a funding crisis
- Stop expecting competition to fix everything
Certainly the first two of these are likely to appear in the Augar recommendations – demystifying the system is one of Philip Augar’s key priorities.
This is supported by another Wonkhe blog by Arthi Nachiappan on living costs
- The cost of undergraduate tuition fees – and the loans required to cover them – are strictly controlled at the supply end, and while numbers are uncapped, this does give government and students some certainty over costs. But rent – the key living cost that maintenance loans are supposed to cover – is uncapped and uncontrolled…. As long as the residential model persists in large parts of the sector, both policy-makers and students need to know much more about the realities of the costs of private sector accommodation that go beyond the surface level exercises and tables that dominate the press. And we will need to see a much more joined-up strategy between local authorities, government departments and institutions to ensure that that model is affordable for students.
In a blog for HEPI Paul Maginnis, the author of a new book entitled The Return of Meritocracy: Conservative Ideas for Unlocking Social Mobility puts forward the case in favour of a graduate tax. His conclusion:
- With a graduate tax, there would be no ‘debt’ that needs to be paid back (which seems to be the main issue for students) and it can be structured to be more progressive. If it was introduced at 7% on earnings over £27,000 it would be a clear indicator that a graduate would have to be on the average UK wage to begin paying back. It would be made affordable by graduates earning over £75,000 paying 10% of their earnings for their university education. At the same time if they slipped below the £27,000 threshold, nothing would be paid back. As with tuition fees, the tax would cease 30 years after graduating from university.
- Reclassifying the student loan system as a graduate tax would, at a stroke, put all spending on student loans back onto current public spending. The consequence of this would be to significantly increase the deficit. The Government may as well embrace this move as the ONS are current reviewing the student loan system. They are likely to conclude that some or all of the current loans appear in the national accounts so the Government might as well take the initiative anyway.
- With the current tuition fee repayment rate of 9% of earnings over the newly introduced threshold of £25,000, a cut to 7% on earnings up to £75,000 would be a progressive move. It would be understood as a tax which would stop graduates receiving alarming letters stating that they owe £50,000 in addition to enormous interest rates. The Government should continue to argue that graduates need to make a financial contribution to keep higher education affordable, while ensuring those who do not go to university are free from subsidising this.
Capping access to fees
A new possibility for reducing the cost of the system was raised by Ant Bagshaw in a Wonkhe blog –not student number controls, but controlling for quality – minimum entry stadnards.
“…what about a control on who can access the student support system? “Three Cs, madam? No, there’s no loan available for you.” Now, this is a problem for plenty of reasons. These include, but are probably not limited to, the following:
- Where does this leave contextual admissions? We could have different minima which take into account the correlations between social privilege and school performance, but what are the chances of this kind of nuanced policy?
- Where does experiential learning fit it? Not all students do A-levels or are aged 17 on application to university. Wouldn’t minimum qualifications disenfranchise some older prospective students or those who’ve taken other routes?
- How do you express a qualifications minimum across all types of pre-university learning, including combinations of awards and over decades of different types (and standards) of award?
- It’s a number control. The chances are that this would be dressed up as “these are students that won’t succeed in HE, so we’re doing them a favour by excluding them”, but let’s call a spade a number control when we see it.
- There will be a way around it. As I wrote recently for Wonkhe, the scourge of unconditional offers (amongst other consequences such as grade inflation) is a consequence of the marketised system as designed and implemented. There are easy ways around unconditional offers – make very low offers. There will be ways around minimum qualifications.
As Ant points out:
- There’s a strong thread in the commentary about universities that “too many students” are going, and the system is too expensive and that avaricious vice chancellors are simply putting “bums on seats” with any student with a pulse.
So he suggests instead:
- One way could be to reward universities for the value that they add to students’ outcomes. And outcomes not measured in terms of degree classifications which are in the control of the provider, but jobs, salaries, further study, and so on. A system like that would reward the universities which were able to admit the students with the lowest grades, but only those which could demonstrate that there admissions decisions were the right ones.
Now those are the sort of changes we may see recommended in the Augar review – differential fees by outcomes seems like a strong possibility, as mentioned by the PM when she launched it, and trailed perhaps by the Minister when he talked about the IFS report on graduate salaries and first mentioned the “bums on seats” issue in the context of allegedly “underperforming” degrees. You can read more in our policy update on 15th June here.
We have also created a new summary of other policy matters relating to students, including student experience and access and participation, but also looking at government priorities around skills, technical education, social mobility etc. You can find the latest version on the intranet here.
Professor Dave Phoenix, VC of South Bank University has written a report for HEPI “Filling in the biggest skills gap: Increasing learning at Levels 4 and 5”.
In the introduction, Nick Hillman notes:
- Qualifications that are higher than A-Levels but lower than full honours degrees are known in eduspeak as Levels 4 and 5 but HNCs, HNDs, Foundation Degrees and other names in common parlance. They have collapsed in recent years. If there had been such a dramatic fall in any other qualification level, such as GCSEs, A-Levels or Bachelor’s degrees, the fall would have been given the status of a full-blown educational crisis.
- Yet these awards were once the flavour of the month for aspiring politicians in power on both sides of the political spectrum. For example, in 1972, when Margaret Thatcher was the Secretary of State for Education and Science, the Government called for ‘a range of intellectually demanding two-year courses’ for those who did not want part-time study or to enrol on an honours degree.* Almost a generation later, David Blunkett announced Foundation Degrees, which were designed to be more vocational but had similar aims.
- Given current reviews on issues like post-18 learning and the accounting treatment of student loans, there is no better time to build a new political consensus.
So what is the solution? The executive summary notes:
- Employer demand for employees at Levels 4 and 5 is often cited. However, it is unclear whether employers are pinpointing the education level of the employees they need or if they are basing their assessment on the qualifications of employees who are retiring.
- There are views among some that restricting access to Level 6 (Bachelor’s degrees) could enhance the volume of Levels 4 and 5 being delivered. There are also aspirations for further education colleges to deliver more Level 4 and 5 qualifications to meet supposed employer demand for these qualifications. In the medium term, this could dilute higher education and undermine investment in Levels 2 and 3.
- This paper proposes that the origin of our Levels 4 and 5 skills shortage in England is in the shortfall of learners progressing from lower levels. The number of young learners that do not proceed from Level 2 to Level 3 is 36.4 per cent and a further 20.9 per cent of all learners do not progress from Level 3. This amounts to a pool of over 57 per cent of young learners who do not progress to Level 4 or above. We therefore need a strong further education offer to enhance Levels 2 and 3 programmes and more effective promotion of these intermediate qualifications.
And the recommendations are:
- Improving the skills pipeline at Levels 2 and 3:
- provide Mathematics and English qualifications that do not as a default position fail 30 per cent of learners; and
- provide free access to learning through schools and further education colleges for all learners regardless of age at Level 2 and Level 3.
- Raising the profile and esteem of Level 4 and 5 qualifications:
- clearly designate Level 4 and 5 as higher education, ensuring that quality assurance and regulation of Levels 4 and 5 delivered by higher education institutions remain within the current higher education regulatory framework;
- encourage higher education institutions to offer these awards (especially Foundation Degrees, CertHEs and Higher Education Diplomas) as positive targets rather than as early exit awards from Level 6 qualifications; and
- re-introduce a reputable national careers information, advice and guidance programme.
- Revising funding rules to encourage higher education institutions to offer Level 4 and 5 qualifications and individuals to undertake them:
- introduce flexibility to student loans to allow learners to step-on and step-off this educational continuum;
- allow Advanced Learner Loans made for Access to Higher Educational Diplomas to be written off after Level 4 rather than Level 6; and
- allow those taking out Advanced Learner Loans access to maintenance support on the same basis as those accessing Student Loans
Sexual harassment in Universities
Ruth Wilkinson and Rory Murray write for Wonkhe about a new campaign by Kent Union:
The Stick: We lobbied our local councils (Canterbury and Medway) to change their licensing policy so that every license holder would have a licensing obligation to actually tackle sexual harassment on their premises. Hopefully it will never have to be done, but if a premises decides not to play ball in making the night time economy safer, they could have their license reviewed and ultimately withdrawn.
And the Carrot: After a year of running on seed funding from partners, the wonderful Kent Police Crime Commissioner awarded us £12,300 to deliver a training and accreditation scheme so that we could pull together some best practice training and deliver it on the ground to the staff actually in a position to tackle harassment and challenge behaviours. Once trained we’re asking premises to edit and add to their internal policies so that at all new staff inductions they know just how seriously their employer takes harassment, and know exactly what to do when something happens. We’re asking them to take on the Ask For Angela scheme, a wonderful initiative coined in Leicester, where patrons can ask for “Angela” at the bar as a discreet way to say they need help. After a premises is accredited they get a load of materials and promotional items to display about their premises. Shouting loud and proud that they do not tolerate sexual harassment, and that any reports will be taken seriously. We are also building a brilliant interactive map to show to students where the “Zero Tolerance” premises are, so it’s also a bit of free advertising!
And the next bit:
The University of Kent and Kent Union are also delivering further amazing initiatives to tackle sexual violence including an online anonymous reporting system, compulsory consent training, bystander training for committee members (and anyone else who wants to do it), and awareness raising through a powerful film shown at inductions. There’s still a way to go for the sector but acknowledgement of the issue and appetite to take action is so crucial.
Access, participation and outcomes
AGCAS has published the latest edition of What Happens Next? which reports on the first destinations of disabled graduates and provides real evidence of the effect of a disability on a graduate’s employment prospects.
- Following the same pattern as previous years’ findings, this year’s report highlights that notable differences remain in the outcomes of disabled and non-disabled graduates. At all qualification levels (first degree, postgraduate taught and postgraduate research) disabled graduates were less likely to be in full-time employment than non-disabled graduates. Compared to last year’s findings, the gap between the proportion of disabled and non-disabled graduates entering full-time employment has decreased at first degree and postgraduate research levels. However, at postgraduate taught level, the gap has increased.
Essay mills and contract cheating have been in the news again. Jonny Rich wrote a blog aimed at students and has launched a petition proposing a ban. Paul Greatrix of Nottingham University has also blogged for Wonkhe on essay mills, referring to 2017 QAA guidance and a recent ruling from the Advertising Standards Authority. Paul has recently had a twitter discussion with one.
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