Government is right to not consider abolishing tuition fees, says new report

In February 2018, the Prime Minister launched a review into the post-18 education system, led by Philip Augar. An interim report was expected in Autumn 2018, but has not been published. FE News reports.

The review is the first to examine post-18 education funding in almost a decade, and as well as considering tuition fees, will also consider the funding of wider post-18 qualifications and further education.

Today (2 May), six months on from the expected release of the review’s findings, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) has published a new report examining the evidence on the various policy options for the government.

The report scrutinises policy proposals on tuition fees, student support, and non-HE funding; it outlines the evidence for each policy option, before setting out recommendations on how the government should proceed.

Key findings

Proposals from the government and opposition parties to reduce or abolish tuition fees, or lower interest rates, would have a regressive impact.

  • Most of the high profile options for reform would benefit higher earners, and have little impact on improving education access or quality.
  • The government should publish a full analysis of the impact of any changes to fees and student finance, setting out the distributional effects on high and low earners, and those not in higher education.
  • The cost to the taxpayer of abolishing tuition fees entirely would be substantial, with higher earning graduates as the main beneficiaries. There is little evidence that this would increase the participation of disadvantaged students.

Imposing a minimum academic standard to access university loans – a ‘UCAS tariff floor’ – should not be introduced without strong evidence that the majority of those denied loans would be better off pursuing other education routes.

  • While students who would be prevented from accessing loans are more likely to have poorer outcomes at university, evidence suggests that a significant proportion still benefit from a bachelor’s degree: two-thirds who complete their studies go on to secure a first or upper second class degree.
  • There is no evidence that such students would be better off in other education routes. Such routes are often lower-funded and poorly-signposted.

Education pathways for those leaving school

Introducing a minimum academic standard to access student loans: A tariff floor should not be introduced without robust evidence that a significant majority of those affected would be better off pursuing alternative education or training pathways. In the meantime, the government should monitor the impact of the Office for Students (OfS) in properly regulating entry standards and protecting the interests of students. 

Part-time and mature study

Reducing part-time tuition fees: If the government does not make an across-the-board reduction in fees, it should consider introducing a teaching grant to lower tuition fee levels for part-time students.

Easing Equivalent and Lower Qualification (ELQ) funding restrictions: The government should introduce further ELQ exemptions in fields of study with high returns or strong labour market demand.

Commenting on the new report, David Robinson, Director of Post-16 and Skills at the Education Policy Institute (EPI), said: “This analysis highlights the difficult policy choices facing the government as it attempts to reform post-18 funding. Big cuts to tuition fees or the interest rates on loans are likely to prove expensive and would predominantly benefit higher earning graduates, without improving university access or quality.

“There is a stronger argument for considering improving the funding of non-university study routes – including for technical and vocational education outside universities – which has traditionally received less generous funding and student support.”

Read many more findings and suggestions in the full article Government is right to not consider abolishing tuition fees, says new report

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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