Posted tagged ‘Lord Browne’

Principles of higher education finance: the Browne review

October 13, 2010

Perhaps one of the things that is different about the report (Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education) of the Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance (the Browne review) in England is that it has set out a series of principles which, the group recommends should inform decisions on funding. I say this because often when I have raised questions in this blog on student fees I have had the response that I should specify how high the fee would be and what the precise financial implications would be. I understand that no actual proposal could be implemented that does not contain such details, but they are very much secondary when set against the principles of higher education funding. So, whatever about the merits of Lord Browne’s proposals in detail, his group got the general approach to this right, to a greater extent than I have seen in any other such review.

So what principles does Lord Browne out forward? There are six in all, on pages 4-5 of the report:

1. ‘More investment should be available for higher education’. To those of us working in higher education, in whatever jurisdiction, this seems obvious enough, but it is hugely important that this should have been stated clearly in the report, as there are still influential people who believe that higher education can absorb further reductions in funding. One might add, for Ireland, that Irish universities already receive far less funding per student than British ones, even before any changes resulting from Browne may have kicked in.

2. ‘Student choice should be increased’. As a principle this also seems to be absolutely right, though there is merit in assessing what the implications might be, and how sustainable and stable the overall system would be in the wake of any changes.

3. ‘Everyone who has the potential should be able to benefit from higher education’. This, I believe, must be our absolute commitment, that nobody who has the ability and the qualifications to enter higher education should be turned away from it or discouraged from pursuing it, for any reason.

4. ‘No one should have to pay until they start to work’. This principle is new, in that it suggests that students should not pay anything for their tuition while they are doing their programme of study.

5. ‘When payments are made they should be affordable’. Here Browne recommends (with details) how payments should be calculated and levied, and how the amounts should be kept to an affordable level based on the graduate’s current income. It is a good principle, but with potential complications, as it raises the issue of what happens to those debts that will have to be written off, and how this will be handled in the system.

6. ‘Part time students should be treated the same as full-time students for the costs of learning’. This is a principle that we have, in Ireland, manifestly failed to apply, notwithstanding our apparent public commitment to lifelong learning.

Given some of the discussions we have had in Ireland, it is interesting that the group considered and dismissed the viability of a ‘graduate tax’ as the best way of funding higher education. I have never been persuaded by the concept of the graduate tax, so I welcome this particular conclusion.

What happens now will depend initially on the political process, and this will depend in particular on how the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party handle the matter. Both of them will almost certainly have difficult internal debates.

England: Browne recommends lifting the cap on fees

October 12, 2010

The review by Lord Browne’s group has now been published: the report, Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education in England, can be seen in full here.

The key recommendations of the report are:

• the current cap on tuition fees should be removed, so that universities would be entitled to charge whatever they think the market will bear;
• fees should not be payable at the time of university entry, but after graduation;
• fees should be payable when earnings reach £21,000;
• fees above £6,000 should be subject to a government levy to fund student finance;
• the taxpayer’s investment in higher education should remain at current levels;
• all students would have access to maintenance loans, and there would be a grant based on means-testing.

The report also contains a number of other recommendations not directly related to funding, some of which are highly interesting. More on this in another post later today.

It should be noted that the report refers to England only, and does not apply to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. However, its recommendations may have an indirect effect on these jurisdictions, and indeed the general recommendations and the arguments in support of them may be influential further afield, including Ireland.

Funding matters

October 9, 2010

Higher education watchers may want to look out for the publication next week in Britain of the report of the Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance, chaired by Lord Browne. The report was commissioned by Gordon Brown’s Labour government in 2009, but it is expected that the current UK government will move to implement its key findings. Exactly what these are remains to be seen, but one recommendation that has been anticipated in the media is expected to be that the cap on student fees in England (currently at £3,290) should either be increased very significantly or even be lifted altogether, meaning that universities would be able to set the fee at whatever level they deem to be appropriate. Such a move would coincide with an expected severe cut in higher education funding by the government as part of the current spending review being conducted; some commentators suggest that the funding cut could be as high as 25 per cent.

In this setting a debate is taking place about the possible consequences, with some (including the Sutton Trust) suggesting that these developments will lead to very high fees and loss of social mobility; while others (including the Rector of Imperial College London) arguing that universities will want to and need to create large endowments that will fund students from poorer backgrounds.

At any rate, the report and the resulting debate will be worth following, even in jurisdictions (including Ireland and Scotland) where there currently are no tuition fees.