This morning saw the publication of the long awaited independent review into Post-18 education and funding, more widely known as the Augar review. This review looks at a whole host of different things from FE colleges to Universities’ approaches to Access for students from different backgrounds. It makes a number of major recommendations that if implemented could have serious ramifications for the future of Keele, the HE sector and post 18 education more widely.
Although we’ve only had time to do initial exploration of the report at this stage and the various pieces of analysis that have been produced we already have some major concerns about the reports recommendations. We will be working with our partners at Keele University and the various staff Unions to understand the implications for Keele in the short, medium and long term.
Below we have outlined some of our initial concerns and thoughts and provided links to the various documents we have access to at this stage. As more information becomes available and the implications of the report become clear we will endeavour to keep students up to date. It is important to highlight that at this stage it’s unclear as to the likelihood and extent of implementation. The current uncertainty around the policies of the government (given the Tory leadership contest taking place) means that it may be several months before we even begin to get a idea as to the likelihood and/or time frame for implementation. Conversely even the possibility of the implementation of this report will likely begin to have an impact on the sector within days, especially given the precarious financial situation of a number of Universities.
Key Concerns for Keele and HE
Fees and Income Changes
Perhaps the most eye-catching proposals are around the reduction in student fees for Home Undergraduate students from £9250 to £7500 as well as changes to the terms of repayment for future student loans. This includes lengthening the period before the loans are written off, lowering the repayment threshold and increasing the base amount students pay back per month. There is also a move to reintroduce some grants as a replacement for loans for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The issues with this are twofold.
First, whilst this might seem like a change that benefits students financially, the reality is that with the current loan system it's unlikely that many students will actually pay all of the loans and so the lowering of fees (and the addition of some grants) will have little actual impact for those graduates not earning substantial sums. This means that most of the benefits from these changes would go to the highest-earning graduates and that lower earning graduates could well end up paying back substantially more. Money Saving Expert’s Martin Lewis lays out some of the concerns with this approach in his article linked below. There is no suggestion that changes would be made to existing student loan terms, only those issued under a new system.
Secondly, whilst the report somewhat commits to not reducing the total amount of funding going into Universities the distribution of resources by institution could alter significantly, with institutions teaching large numbers of low tariff entry humanities and creative arts courses likely to come under significant financial pressure depending on the terms of implementation. Some modelling has been done on the potential consequences of this kind of system for universities and it makes for pretty bleak reading with some Universities potentially in serious financial trouble. Whilst Keele is unlikely to be the worst affected university from these changes the costs could still potentially run to millions of pounds a year in lost income.
The report is quite scathing of the value for money of foundation years and suggests “withdrawing financial support for foundation years attached to degree courses” over the coming years. It raises real questions about the future viability of foundation year courses and any plans for growth in the area. Keele has a large and growing foundation year and is likely to be significantly impacted financially by any changes of this kind.
There are significant proposed changes to the way in which access (for students from disadvantaged backgrounds) is promoted and developed at Universities and beyond. These are a bit more detailed and will take us some time to get our heads around but there looks to be both risk and opportunity within the proposals as they stand.
It’s worth noting that while our focus is on the impact on Keele and Higher Education more widely the report is equally interested in the Further Education sector and post 18 funding as a whole. There are some very positive aspects of the report about increasing funding for specific bits of FE and some areas of the education sector are likely to benefit. This doesn't distract from the immediate and pressing concerns for Keele.
It’s also worth noting that there's very little in the report on postgraduate study and international students, omissions that are concerning in their own right. Sharia compliant student finance has also still not been addressed.
Below are the links referenced above as well as some further reading. Whilst we're still in the very early stages, this report sets the scene for what could be significant and fundamental changes to the Universities Sector and Keele specifically.
As the implications become clear we will be doing our best to keep up to date and keep students informed, both about this review and consequent changes at Keele. We’re keen that whatever happens and whatever changes come, students are leading the conversation about what our universities look like and how they’re run.
If you have any questions or concerns please don’t hesitate to get in touch with either the KPA or KeeleSU and we'll try our best to answer those queries as we ourselves begin to get a better understanding of what this means and what comes next.
Review of Post-18 Education and Funding
Money Saving Expert - Comments on the Augar Report
Wonkhe article outlining some key points
NUS first response