Browne Review: updates as they happen

UPDATE 7 – 15.45pm – Vince Cable’s parliamentary statement on the Browne review in full

 

Vince Cable, secretary of state for business, innovation, and skills.

“With permission Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the future funding of higher education and student finance, in the light of the report published today of Lord Browne’s independent inquiry.

Lord Browne was asked to undertake his review in November last year. The review was set up by Labour on a cross-party basis, and that is how we want to proceed.

I and my colleague the Rt Hon member for Havant want to thank Lord Browne and his Review Panel. The Government endorses the main thrust of the report. But we are open to suggestions from inside and outside the House over the next few weeks before making specific recommendations to Parliament, with a view to implementing the changes for students entering higher education in Autumn 2012. More detail will be contained in next week’s Spending Review on the funding implications. But as a strategic direction the Government believes the report is on the right lines.

Browne acknowledges that “the current funding and finance systems for higher education are unsustainable and need urgent reform”. The issue is how. And that question has to be framed in terms of how the higher education sector contributes to the deficit reduction programme.

There is also, I think, consensus around the idea that there should be no upfront tuition fees for students. That would seriously deter students from low and middle income families. This Government is strongly opposed to upfront tuition fees. Indeed it shares Lord Browne’s conclusion that we should extend exemption from upfront tuition fees to part-time students, currently 40% of the student population, who have been unfairly discriminated against hitherto.

The question, then, is how much the graduate contributions for tuition should be.

We are considering a level of £7,000. Many universities and colleges may well decide to charge less than that, since there is clearly scope for greater efficiency and innovation in the way universities operate. Two year ordinary degrees are one approach. Exceptionally, Lord Browne suggests there should be circumstances under which universities can price their courses above this point. But, he suggests, this would be conditional on demonstrating that funds would be invested in securing a good social mix with fair access for students with less privileged backgrounds, and in raising the quality of teaching and learning. We will consider this carefully.

We believe it is essential that if the graduate contribution is to rise it should be linked to graduates’ ability to pay. On average, graduates earn comfortably more than £100,000 over their lifetimes compared with non graduates. But not all graduates benefit in this way. Some choose socially useful but modestly paid or unpaid work which may include time spent bringing up a family. At present the graduate contribution acts like a poll tax, and is not fair .

Lord Browne has come up with persuasive proposals to deal with this issue. He suggests a £21,000 graduate income threshold before any payment is made, as against £15,000 at present, and to be linked to average earnings. And he suggests that a real rate of interest should be paid but only over that threshold. The effect is striking: 20% of graduates could pay less than they do now. The top third of graduate earners would pay more than twice as much as the lowest third.   That is fair and progressive: the Government broadly endorses this approach and will examine the details of implementation. The principle of needs blind admission to universities must remain central.

The cost of university education to individuals and the state reflects living costs as well as tuition costs. The Browne Report makes some constructive suggestions, .  We shall come forward with detailed proposals which will make it attractive for students from families of modest means to go to university and will be fair and affordable including exempting the poorest students from graduate contributions for some (or all) of their studies.

Lord Browne considered alternatives, including a graduate tax  –  as I believed new leader of the Labour Party favours. There are some key features in the current proposal for progressive graduate contributions which incorporate the best features of a graduate tax. It would be collected through the pay packet at a rate of 9p in the pound above the £21,000 threshold; combined with a real interest rate as Browne recommends, it would be progressive and related to ability to pay.

But Browne identifies serious problems with a ‘pure’ graduate tax. The proposal is unworkable; does not produce sufficient revenue to finance higher education until 30 years from now; weakens university independence; and is unfair to British graduates as opposed to graduates living overseas.
 
If there are any lingering doubts on opposition benches I would strongly commend a letter from the new shadow Chancellor to the new Labour leader 3 weeks ago, which reads thus: ‘Oh, and for goodness’ sake, don’t pursue a graduate tax. We should be proud of our brave and correct decision to introduce tuition fees. Students don’t pay them, graduates do, when they’re earning [more than £15,000 a year], at very low rates, stopped from their pay just like a graduate tax, but with the money going where it belongs: to universities rather than the Treasury.’

I do believe, moreover, that we need to look beyond the graduate population. 55% of young people do not go to University. We must not perpetuate the idea encouraged by the pursuit of a misguided 50% participation target, that the only valued option for an 18 year old is a three year academic course at a University. An Apprenticeship can be just as valuable as a degree, if not more.

Finally, there is a challenge to all of us to promote a long term sustainable future for higher education. This has been a difficult issue for all parties in the House. Those opposite have ranged between being early advocates of a graduate contribution such as the member for Sheffield Brightside and the new shadow Chancellor, through to those implacably opposed to change –  to the current labour leadership who remarkably have now embraced a graduate tax! The Conservatives initially campaigned against graduate contributions but reversed its position. The Liberal Democrats consistently opposed graduate contributions.

But in this current economic climate that policy is simply no longer feasible. That is why I intend on behalf of the coalition to put specific proposals to the House to implement radical and progressive reforms to HE based on the Browne report.”

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UPDATE 6 – 14.42pm – Socialist Students hit out at report

 

From a release sent to The Linc:

Claire Laker-Mansfield, Socialist Students national organiser, said: “If implemented, this spells the end of access to university as we know it for future generations of young people. This will not lead to an improvement in education; ministers argue fees will be over £7,000 just to compensate for the cuts coming in the Comprehensive Spending Review next week, on top of those already implemented. There will be a huge anger from young people against this, and the demonstration on 10 November should only be the start.”

Ben Robinson, Chair of Youth Fight for Jobs, said: “On the 20 October, we will see protests around the country called by Youth Fight for Jobs and Socialist Students. During a recession, when there is already the danger of young people becoming a lost generation, this is the government closing off yet another avenue. What are young people finishing school and college supposed to do? There is one job for every five people unemployed, huge cuts coming in every service including to education, and now university ruled out in the eyes of many young people from working and middle class backgrounds.”

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UPDATE 5 – 13.58pm – “Ultimately talented students from less well off backgrounds will suffer.” University of Lincoln SU

 

University of Lincoln Students’ Union provided this response:

Dan Derricott, Vice-President Academic Affairs of ULSU, said “There is already significant concern over students from poorer backgrounds not being able to access older, richer universities focused on research – by introducing a market into higher education and seeing variable fees based on league table rankings, as is likely, the situation will only become worse. We will see a situation where students decide on their university based on their ability to pay rather than their ability to learn – ultimately talented students from less well off backgrounds will suffer.
 
“Rich elite universities will become even more elitist and our society will work against fairness – a principle that this coalition government prides itself on so much, a principle that our local Members of Parliament throw about and now is the time to prove they are people of principle – particularly in cities such as Lincoln that benefit so greatly from the economic investment of universities and their students.
 
“We are calling on local M.P Karl McCartney to stand up for the thousands of students, potential students and their families in his constituency. To vote in favour of Lord Browne’s recommendations would be a shame and work against the hopes and dreams of young people across Lincoln, something I am sure Mr McCartney is keen to avoid.”

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UPDATE 4 – 13.12pm – “A savage attack on what a university is and what it can offer to all students.” UCU

 

University and College Union published this statement:

Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, said “This is a savage attack on what a university is and what it can offer to all students – not just those with deep pockets – as it effectively privatises the cost of higher education from state to family.
 
“Browne’s proposals would make our public degrees the most expensive in the world. At an enormous cost of between £40,000 and £70,000 for one child’s education, it would be the final nail in the coffin for an affordable university degree for many ordinary families.
 
“As a result of this creation of a market for student places, we would see departments and universities close and a devastating effect on the curriculum as only so-called priority courses survive. It would become almost impossible to develop courses in new areas of knowledge without directly percieved economic benefit. If enacted, these proposals will weaken our position as a global knowledge centre.

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UPDATE 3 – 11.26am – “Lord Browne’s proposals build on the fair and progressive elements of the current system.” Universities UK

 

Universities UK responded with this statement:

Professor Steve Smith, President of Universities UK, said “We are extremely pleased that Lord Browne’s proposals build on the fair and progressive elements of the current system. No parent or student would have to pay tuition fees upfront, only a graduate would pay when they are earning £21,000 per year. This will be crucial in supporting those from disadvantaged backgrounds through university.

“The bottom 20 per cent of earners would pay back less than they do at the moment and only the top 40 per cent on average would be expected to pay back all the costs.

“The review addresses directly the need for a properly funded higher education system. Any Government proposals arising from the review must deal immediately with the anticipated gap in public funding for universities.

“We know these are difficult decisions, but in an era of public funding cuts, we have to look fairly and squarely at who pays for the cost of higher education. The alternatives would mean universities having to reduce the number of student places or returning to a period of underfunding. Both of these would be hugely damaging to students, universities and the economy.

“I urge politicians not to leave us with an insurmountable funding gap and, instead, work together to find a workable solution. If they don’t then they will starve our universities of the resources they need to teach the students of tomorrow and the chance to remain a leading player on the higher education world stage.

“The report makes some bold proposals relating to the regulation of the university sector and there are some aspects which we believe require a careful approach.”

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UPDATE 2 – 10.06am – “A blank cheque for universities would force students to pay for devastating cuts” NUS

 

Aaron Porter, president of the NUS, has released this statement:

“If adopted, Lord Browne’s review would hand universities a blank cheque and force the next generation to pick up the tab for devastating cuts to higher education. The only thing students and their families would stand to gain from higher fees would be higher debts.

“A market in course prices between universities would increasingly pressure on students to make decisions based on cost rather than academic ability or ambition. Those already feeling the pinch will clearly be unwilling to take such a gamble and face being priced out of the universities that would opt to charge sky-high fees.

“There is no clear assurance that a hike in fees would improve student choice or quality and the evidence since fees tripled four years ago shows that neither student satisfaction nor quality has improved. Universities have not made the case for what they would do with more.

“Any graduate contributions to universities should be determined by earnings in the real world after graduation, not fixed prices based on unreliable and misleading guesswork about average salaries.”

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UPDATE 1 – 09:02am – University Alliance react to report

 

University Alliance, of which the Universityof Lincoln is a part, issued a lukewarm response to Browne’s review. From their release:

“Libby Aston, director of University Alliance, said: ‘We strongly welcome the recognition Lord Browne has given to the central role that universities play in the UK’s economic recovery and international competitiveness.

‘Higher education is an investment in the engine of an innovation-driven economy; it provides good value to the taxpayer and will help deliver the economic growth the UK needs.

‘It is therefore absolutely critical, that a new system for graduate contributions is not seen as a total substitute for public investment in universities. There is an equally strong case for public and graduate investment in universities and we need both if we are going to support aspiration and deliver the higher skilled workforce we need.

‘Introducing a graduate contribution schemeis an opportunity to improve the system for students, universities and government now needs to be aken, but to do this there has to be a fundamental shift in understanding that it is graduates that need to contribute, not students.

‘Such a scheme, as proposed by University Alliance, eliminates the very notion of upfront costs and tuition fee debt, putting in place a simplified system of financial support for students alongside a time-limited, graduate contribution, based on earnings. Quite simply – if you don’t benefit you don’t pay. But this principle must apply to the government as well – let’s not forget the massive public benefit of investing in universities.’

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