‘DEAD on arrival,’ is how Vanessa Wilson, chief executive of the University Alliance Group described outgoing PM May’s new report on university education.
The Augar report on post-18 education in England, commissioned by May, recommends increasing student loan repayments and lowering the amount that graduates earn before they start paying it back, meaning that graduates in lower-paid jobs will be hit hard.
The time frame for paying back the student loan should, the report recommends, be extended from 30 years to 40 years. This means that even if you complete your A-Levels at 18 and go straight to university, graduating at the age of 21, you will still be in debt well into your sixties!
Unison head of health Jon Richards warned that ‘lengthening the period of loans will also deepen the misery for many students, saddling them with a lifetime of debt and, with no reduction in the punishing interest rates, that financial burden will continue to build.’
The review calls for university fees to be reduced from £9,250 to £7,500 and calls for grants to be restored.
However, lecturers union UCU’s head of policy and campaigns, Matt Waddup, said: ‘The prime minister called the Augar review because the current funding system was so politically toxic.
‘From what we have seen, the recommended tuition fee changes look like the worst of all worlds. Institutions would have their hands tied on funding while students would still graduate with tens of thousands of pounds of debt that many will never fully pay off.’
Meanwhile, university heads warned that if the proposals were actually implemented, it would send the entire sector into ‘survival mode’.
Adam Tickell, vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex, warned: ‘Universities would potentially have £2bn less to invest in teaching, mental-health support, and infrastructure.
‘This would be a cut in government spending on higher education masquerading as a gift to students, when in fact very few would benefit and the vast majority would have a poorer educational experience. It would push many universities into survival mode at a time when the country critically needs them to thrive.’
Jack Britton, senior research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said: ‘The highest earning graduates (will benefit) the most from the proposed changes, while lower and middle earning graduates will be squeezed.’
Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: ‘The report alone does nothing to address the burning injustices facing our education system. With no formal government response, no extra funding and no guarantee that the recommendations will be implemented by her successor, the Augar review epitomises May’s legacy as prime minister and this shambolic Tory government; all talk, empty promises and very little action.’
Shakira Martin, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: ‘This announcement is too little too late, given that Theresa May’s legacy in higher education will always be the deportation of thousands of our international student friends and colleagues.’
Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Director of Nursing Policy and Practice, Bronagh Scott, said: ‘The reduction in fees will only benefit the highest earners and the average nurse could now be paying back their loans for 40 years after graduation.
‘While a portion of nursing students might be reassured to see they could qualify for more financial support, it’s hard to see how this would boost the number of people who study nursing. Since 2016, when the bursary was removed in England, the number of applications to nursing degrees has dropped by almost a third.’
The way forward is clear: All university fees must be abolished. The student midwife and nurses’ bursary must be reinstated and the full living grant be restored for each and every student so that their accommodation and expenses are covered while they study.
The students union, lecturers, nursing and university staff unions, backed up by the entire working class, must come out in a nationwide strike, accompanied by student occupations and a mass national march to bring this government down and restore free education for all! This is the only way forward!