The Browne report ‘Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education’ is here.
- loans for living costs; grants for families with below £60,000 income
- no upfront fees for tuition, these too funded by loans
- repayment of loans to start at £21,000, but 9% of income above that
- universities can now charge fees as they wish above the current limit of £3290, but £6000 seems to be the new target. Above £6000 universities will pay a levy back to government.
It’s pretty clear that the report is trying to minimise government financial involvement in HE, and that it is doing this by claiming it is in the interests of students, parents and institutions.
There is a lot in here of why this is not a ‘graduate tax’ – the key differences being a pay ceiling (the ‘charge of the degree’) or a time limit (30 years!); and the direct link between the institution and the student rather the treasury and the student.
One thing that is striking is that it takes 2006 and the introduction of fees for tuition as its starting point. The struggles over that – remember it nearly brought down Blair – have long been lost. Having been lost, it becomes a question of whether this should be a free market or a regulated market. There is also the depressing line about who benefits from a degree – “the public also receives a benefit but this is less than the private benefit”. In the part on postgraduates, there is the comment that resources should be targeted “on courses that are a priority for the public interest”. I’d like to see them define that.
There is also a request for some more information to be available to students when they are applying for or choosing (what is now effectively ‘purchasing’) their degree course. Its emphasis is heavy on student evaluations – quantitative, of course – and course information (hours, proportion of this and that, employment percentages, average salary of graduates). Compare the Higher Education Market dot com…
And despite the idea of less government regualtion, there is a new HE Council proposed with regulatory powers. This will replace HEFCE, QAA, OFFA and OIA. Its aims are Investment, Quality, Equity of Access, Competition and Dispute Resolution.
And the unsaid part of the report – massive cuts coming in the comprehensive spending review. A major shift away from a public good toward a market based system.
It’s not a very long report – 64 pages.
Update 11.10: BBC’s Nick Robinson boils the party politics down to their essence:
Here’s what to remember when you hear politicians trading blows about tuition fees:
• Labour introduced them and commissioned the report proposing that the cap on them be lifted, but now says it wants them abolished
• the Tories originally proposed scrapping them, but now backs almost doubling them
• the Lib Dems said they’d vote against any increase in tuition fees, but are now in charge of the department which will do just that
• if Lib Dem ministers and the Tories stick together, these proposals will get through – even if a large number of Lib Dem MPs rebel against their party line