Reactions to the Browne Review

I wanted to put down some of my comments and views about the Browne Review, particularly in light of some of the slating it has been receiving. Here are some of my key views, not mentioning the issue of Value I mentioned previously.

Public Funding is being cut, it but the financial aid required to support students is being increased.
The Review has recommended a cut of c. £2.5bn from the current teaching grant and £0.4bn from maintenance grants, but this is offset by a £1.9bn increase in funding in fee loans (section 5.7, page 44). The outcome of this is that the funding will closer follow the student. The remaining £0.7bn teaching grant will follow higher-cost subjects at Band A (Clinical), Band B (such as Sciences) and “potentially” Band C (such as Modern Languages, explicitly mentioned, Mathematics, Art and Music).

Graduates will have the best value unsecured loan they will ever get.
Even now, students pay nothing up front for their education. The idea that an 18 year old is saddled with debt is a misconception that both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats used to gain students’ votes. Now, Labour are using it. The debt only gets repaid when graduates (not students) are earning above the repayment threshold. Currently this threshold is below the minimum wage so Browne is right to propose it gets increased to £21k. If you consider that the estimated value of a degree is in excess of £120k over a career, a loan of £30k will still leave the graduate with a net profit. If they fail to earn above the threshold, then clearly their degree was not as valuable to their career earnings (not even starting on the life-skills that university life can provide) and the Government will write off interest and, after 30 years, any remaining debt.

The only significant difference is that there will be more incentive for people to pay off their loan if the interest rate is higher. The proposal is that the Government no longer underwrites the loan by setting the rate at the cost to them to borrow. Many graduates will want to pay off more which should provide Government with more repayment income, but more importantly see the demographic of those with a remaining loan being those people who need it most.

Students will have more choice.
I realise this statement could be controversial. Some arguments have already been made that “elite” universities will try to pile in the students to certain subjects so that their teaching costs can be lower. The Browne Review quite clearly states that universities will have to do more to access the funding that follows their students. This includes having clearer measures on Widening Participation and on teaching quality. School careers services will need to ensure they can engage with their A-level students to put into context the importance of Student-Staff Ratios so that where a university is trying to ‘pile in the students’ their quality scores will be lower and students should be actively encouraged to consider study elsewhere.

Universities can offer more places.
There are currently a significant number of qualified applicants who cannot get places at University. The current hard limit is imposed by Government as the teaching grant is relative to the number of students being taught, with a fixed cost per student. The Review recommends changing this so that the cost per student is what changes, although my interpretation is that this variation will only apply to subjects with block funding.

A Graduate Tax or complete Government Grant would not be better.
Currently, the Student Loans Company can require anyone with a loan to repay it, regardless of where they are working. A Graduate Tax can only be recovered from tax-payers in this country, and if the State pays for students to study here who then emigrate, as a nation we do not benefit from the investment we have made through our taxes. This proposal protects the investment. In addition, I believe a graduate tax is unfair to people who easily earn enough to repay the cost of their tuition, and as such the protection offered to low-paid graduates would have to be removed. There is a benefit to going to University but it is not infinite, which is what a tax would be.

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