Tuition fees and funding must be better understood, university chiefs warn
A Government review of the university funding system is expected to be formally announced next week.
University tuition fees and funding need to be “better understood” and “feel fairer to students”, higher education leaders have said.
More must be done to address students’ concerns about living costs, according to Universities UK, which argues that pumping funding into bringing back maintenance grants for the poorest students would be a “positive step”.
The Government is expected to announce its long-awaited review of the university funding system next week.
It is likely that review will look at issues such as cutting or freezing tuition fees – which cost up to £9,250 a year at English universities – as well as interest rates on loan repayments, which stand at up to 6.1%.
Ahead of the imminent announcement, university bosses argued that the quality of education offered by UK institutions will only be maintained with “stable and sustainable” funding, which the current system provides.
And the leaders of the UK’s top universities warned that finding the right balance on tuition fees and university finance is likely to mean a “series of difficult trade-offs”.
UUK chief executive Alistair Jarvis said: “The system needs to be better understood and to feel fairer to students.
“More should be done to address students’ concerns about living costs so that no-one is deterred from benefiting from a university education. New investment to re-introduce maintenance grants for the poorest students would be a positive step.
“Our universities offer a world-renowned quality of education and develop the skilled graduates our economy and society needs. This can only be maintained with stable and sustainable funding, which the current system provides.
“The Government’s review is an opportunity to examine the evidence and to make improvements.”
The system needs to be better understood and to feel fairer to students Alistair Jarvis, Universities UK
A spokesman for the Russell Group, which represents 24 of the UK’s most selective universities, said: “Any changes to the current funding model need to be fair and affordable to students, while still meeting the needs of taxpayers and universities in providing students with a high-quality education and experience.
“Finding the right balance is likely to involve making a series of difficult trade-offs.”
He added: “Those undertaking the review will need to be aware of all aspects of university funding, rather than focusing on tuition fees in isolation. A whole-system approach is needed to avoid unintended consequences of changes in one area impacting on another.
“For example, the review should recognise that universities serve a broad purpose alongside the provision of teaching and learning.”
If this review is to serve any purpose then it needs to be radical and explore genuine alternatives to the current system Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary
Theresa May pledged a review of university funding at the Conservative party conference last autumn, a move that came amid growing debate about the current system, and whether students are getting value for money.
The debate was initially sparked in part by a Labour party election pledge to scrap tuition fees for future students.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said that there needs to be “a proper debate with education as a public good at its heart”.
She added: “If this review is to serve any purpose then it needs to be radical and explore genuine alternatives to the current system, not just tinker at the edges of the current failed system.”
Dr Greg Walker, chief executive of universities group MillionPlus, said: “Whatever the terms announced next week, the watchwords of the review should be sustainability and equity, for both students and universities.
“A cut in tuition fees without a plan to replace that lost income would risk the world-leading reputation of Britain’s higher education sector and lead to major job losses in many regions of England.”