What are the key questions on university funding and tuition fees?
Theresa May pledged to ‘look again’ at the funding system last autumn.
The Government is expected to announce a review of the university funding system next week. Here are some of the key questions:
Why is the Government reviewing university funding?
Theresa May announced a review of university finance at the Conservative Party conference last autumn, pledging to “look again” at the system.
The Prime Minister’s announcement came amid growing debate about the current funding system, with concerns about issues such as whether students are getting value for money, and the impact of tuition fee debt on graduates.
The debate was sparked in part by a high-profile Labour Party general election pledge to scrap tuition fees for all future students.
What’s the current system?
In England, tuition fees stand at up to £9,250 a year for home and EU students.
Students can get government loans to cover their fees and living costs, which they repay after they have graduated and are in work.
At the time she promised a funding review, Mrs May also announced plans to freeze tuition fees at the current level, rather than allow them to increase with inflation.
She also said that the salary threshold for graduates to begin repaying loans would rise from £21,000 to £25,000.
Interest rates on loans now stand at up to 6.1% – which has sparked concerns from some quarters.
What’s the impact of the current system?
A study published by respected economic think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) last summer, before the Government announced the fee freeze and repayment changes, calculated that fees of £9,250 and interest rates of up to 6.1% would mean that the average student would owe more than £50,000 on graduation.
The IFS has also calculated that raising the repayment threshold to £25,000 will save some graduates up to £15,700 over a lifetime, but will add £2.3 billion to the annual cost of the sector to the taxpayer over the long term.
Freezing fees at £9,250 will reduce the debt of students coming into the system by just £800 and will save the Government £300 million.
What will the review look at?
The review is likely to be fairly wide-ranging and look at a number of issues – such as value for money.
It is likely to consider whether tuition fees could be cut or frozen, and whether changes could be made to interest rates on student loans.
What will it mean for students and universities?
That is the million dollar question, and rests on what the review finds.
University leaders have warned that funding for higher education needs to be stable and sustainable.
It has also been argued by some that any drop in funding – such as through a cut to tuition fees – would need to be made up from elsewhere.
The Russell Group, which represents 24 of the UK’s leading institutions, has said that changes to the system need to be fair and affordable for students, and still meet the needs of taxpayers and universities in providing a high-quality education.