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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Students should have a vote on the Higher Education gravy train

Whatever you think about tuition fees, and I remain opposed to the concept, they have changed the nature of higher education. A public service has become a market place, in which universities compete not for the best and brightest, but for lucrative fee income and where courses rise and fall on their popularity rather than their academic merits.

The name of the game is expansion as Vice Chancellors build up little educational empires and seek to exploit every avenue to boost budgets to pay for their ambitions. They have morphed from being the head of an educational establishment into the role of Chief Executive, and rewards have grown exponentially in response to that change.

The Independent reports on one Vice Chancellor who has defended his £230,000 salary despite accusations by a former higher education minister that institutions’ top managements are operating a “cartel”. They say that the average university vice chancellor salary is now £275,000, while fees have increased from zero to £9,250 a year in two decades and are now the world’s highest for public institutions.

It is difficult not to sympathise with Andrew Adonis, a former HE minister, who believes that salaries for top management should be slashed across the sector to show “leadership". His priority of spending the money on abolishing fees however, could be questioned.

That is not because I want fees to remain, I don't, but because the research I have seen is the most pernicious and damaging debt for graduates is that they build up on day to day living and course expenses whilst in college.

Tuition fee debt is only repayable after you reach earnings of £21,000. You only repay 9% of everything you earn over that threshold and any remaining debt is written off after 30 years. This debt does not count against your credit rating so it does not affect your ability to take out a mortgage. None of this is true for debts accrued in the more traditional way for living costs.

It is my view that in the first instance, the rest of the UK should follow the example of Wales in re-establishing substantial maintenance grants for Welsh students. As this article points out, the new support package in Wales will cover those who start their course in 2018/19, wherever in the UK they choose to study. Every student will be entitled to support equivalent to the national living wage:

'This means that eligible full-time students will receive maintenance support of £11,250 if they study in London and £9,000 per year elsewhere if they live away from home.

This will be delivered through a mix of loans and grants, unlike in England where zero maintenance grants are available. Very small, limited grants are available in Scotland, but they too are currently reviewing the system.

Welsh students from the lowest household income will receive the highest grant – £8,100 in their pocket, and more in London. Our estimates suggest that a third of full-time students will be eligible for that full grant.

Furthermore, our data shows that the average household income for a student in our current system is around £25,000. Under the new system such a student will receive around £7,000 a year in their pocket.

However, potentially the most radical element of our reforms is to provide equivalent support for part-time and postgraduate students. Wales will be the first in Europe to achieve this. For the first time, part-time undergraduates will receive similar support for maintenance, pro-rata to their full-time counterparts.'

There is a case at the same time to raise the income threshold at which tuition fee loans are repaid from £21,000 and to reduce the interest payable on those loans. Once we have done that we can then look at how we can pay to get rid of the tuition fee altogether.

But back to Vice Chancellors. The other side-effect of tuition fees was the empowering of students. If Universities are going to turn Higher Education into a market place then it is students who are the consumers, and they need to flex their muscles in that capacity much more.

It is time Universities treated their students more like shareholders, with a say in key issues such as how they spend their money. If student facilities are more important than Vice Chancellor remuneration then that is how the cash should be allocated.  After all students' money that is being used to fund some of this expenditure.
We have to re-think post-16 and post-18 years education. We have to think beyond the New Labour 50% of graduates tosh.

Some people don't like formal education but have a fine brain to be applied in other ways. But we can't pay for their training -- we've spent the money on the kids of pushy Waitrose parents.

For some students, entering a degree course after A-Levels is the right thing for them. However we should consider the number of students seeking a gap year as a useful reminder that we're talking about young people. At age 18, most young people are working out who they are.

If we stop pushing young people to go to university and start respecting alternative qualifications, we have the logic for a better post-18 years education system.
I agree with Phil.

What puzzles me is why the threshold for repayment of tuition fees has been brought down to £21,000 while migrants must achieve a regular £35,000 per year to remain.
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