Augar review – what is the reaction?

The reaction to the Augar review from the education sector, politics and industry has been mixed

From the education sector:

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “On the face of it the fee-level recommendations may look good for students, but unless the government gives a cast-iron guarantee on full replacement funding, it could prove to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

“I recognise there are difficult choices to be made on public funding, but cutting fees without replacement funding would be a political choice which hurts students, limits opportunity, damages universities, decreases the number of highly-skilled employees that business needs, and reduces our international competitiveness at a time when modern Britain needs it most.”

Prof Dame Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool, said: “These recommendations open up new avenues for more flexible study and lifelong learning, which employers and our economy need. But we need to ensure the government doesn’t close the door on student choice by cutting funding and restricting access to university.

“With around 300,000 new places needed at universities over the next decade as the 18-year-old population rises, it is more important than ever to ensure we maintain investment in our world-leading sector.”

We must not let this report be diminished to just a debate about tuition fees – David Hughes, Association of Colleges

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: “Whoever becomes Prime Minister has a tough task ahead with widening skills gaps and stagnating social mobility. The recommendations in this report tackle both head on and should be a priority from day one in the job.

“We must not let this report be diminished to just a debate about tuition fees. It is more important than that. Universities are vitally important, but many people seem to need reminding that they are not the only part of the post-18 education and training system. In fact, more than half of the population have never been and never will go to university. Their education and life chances have been ignored for far too long.

Augar’s recommendation to remove funding for foundation years is a far too blunt instrument – Alex Proudfoot, Independent Higher Education

Alex Proudfoot, chief executive of Independent Higher Education (IHE), said: “There is still more to be done to ensure higher education providers who offer qualifications across vocational, technical and academic pathways do not face multiple regulatory bodies creating a disjointed and burdensome system which ultimately students pay for through their fees.

“The report has fallen short of recommending the removal of regulatory barriers across tertiary education, which would eradicate the market distortions which favour degrees and encourage providers to tailor their provision to address unmet needs.

“Augar’s recommendation to remove funding for foundation years is a far too blunt instrument for what is a very a complex challenge and shows that the panel has not investigated these courses properly.”

Bill Rammell, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire and former higher education minister in the last Labour Government, said: “As one of the ministers who introduced the fees settlement of 2005, I remain convinced that the tuition fee system is the fairest and most progressive way to ensure stable and sustainable funding for university education.

“The decision to stop students on a foundation year accessing student finance is a kick in the teeth for those universities who have been doing the heavy lifting when it comes to encouraging students from non-traditional backgrounds to enter higher education. It is also a restriction on student choice for those students who prefer a foundation year at a University.”

It would push many universities into survival mode at a time when the country critically needs them to thrive – Adam Tickell, University of Sussex

Adam Tickell, vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex, said: “However, the proposed fee cut to £7,500 would do nothing to help the vast majority of students. Without a cast-iron guarantee that the Treasury would replace the funding shortfall, the proposal would damage students’ education.

“Many students would actually end up paying more for their education – because they would be repaying over 40 years rather than 30 – but universities would potentially have £2-billion 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.”

It’s also right to address the critical underfunding of the FE sector but this should not be done on the back of making HE graduates pay more – GuildHE

A spokesperson for GuildHE said: “We are particularly pleased that the panel have responded to our arguments for a more flexible student finance package that allows students to step on and off education at their own pace meaning more students will be able to access whatever qualifications help them succeed in their chosen professions. This should help incentivise level 4 and 5 qualifications in both FE and HE.

“It’s also right to address the critical underfunding of the FE sector but this should not be done on the back of making HE graduates pay more – extending the repayment period to 40 years will particularly hit middle and lower earning graduates and is a regressive and unwelcome recommendation.”

A statement from the Russell Group said: “It is imperative the next Prime Minister provides students, businesses and universities with a cast-iron guarantee that, in the event of a fee cut, teaching grants will fully cover the funding shortfall and meet future demand for higher education places.”

 

From politics:

Prime minister Theresa May said: “I was not surprised to see the panel argue for the reintroduction of means-tested maintenance grants both for university students and those studying for higher technical qualifications. Such a move would ensure students are supported whichever route they choose, and save those from the poorest backgrounds over £9,000.

“It will be up to the Government to decide, at the upcoming Spending Review, whether to follow this recommendation. But my view is very clear: removing maintenance grants from the least well-off students has not worked, and I believe it is time to bring them back.”

No guarantee that the recommendations will be implemented by [Theresa May’s] successor – Angela Rayner, Labour

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.”

Justine Greening, former Conservative education secretary, tweeted:

Shakira Martin, NUS national president, said: “NUS will always fight for our vision of free and funded education, and we are glad that the Prime Minister is coming around to our view that students need maintenance grants to fund their studies. It has always been a disgrace that the poorest students leave higher education with the highest level of debt.”

Jo Johnson, former Conservative Universities Minister, tweeted:

From industry:

UK plc is short of skills that are economically valuable to industry – Tim Thomas, Make UK

Tim Thomas, Make UK’s director of labour market and skills, said: “The re-balancing of resource and focus between Higher Education and vocational education is long overdue. It must be founded on an evidenced-based approach and focussed in areas where UK plc is short of skills that are economically valuable to industry, such as STEM and digital.

“Alongside this re-balancing must come greater and better targeted funding for degree courses which are costly to deliver, costly to fund but vital for the UK’s future in a world where technology, science and technical skills will more important than ever to consumers, employers and society.”

Ending the financial and political neglect of the further education sector is therefore long overdue – Josh Hardie, CBI

Josh Hardie, CBI deputy director-general, said: “The stark lack of technical and vocational options for people often frustrates employers. Ending the financial and political neglect of the further education sector is therefore long overdue. With further education funding squeezed significantly in recent years, the Government’s Spending Review is as an opportunity to make the much-needed investment.”

“In a rapidly changing world of work, the CBI has argued for more flexible training that enables people the chance to learn-while-they-earn. For many people, if they can’t study flexibly, they don’t study at all. The report makes some welcome recommendations in this area, including a single lifelong learning loan allowance. This allowance could help encourage more people to step back into education at a time, pace, and location of their choice.

“Any change to tuition fees and the funding universities receive must not lead to a cut in higher education funding. A reduction in the graduate contribution, without a top-up from the Treasury, could bring into question the financial sustainability of many universities, jeopardising quality and the high-skilled talent the UK economy needs and which businesses value.”

Tuition fees to drop to £7,500 – the primary beneficiaries are the highest earning graduates – Martin Lewis, Money Saving Expert

Martin Lewis, founder of Money Saving Expert, said: “Two really big changes may well slip under the radar. The proposal to lower the repayment threshold (the income level at which repayments begin) will increase what graduates pay each month. Combined with the substantial elongation of the repayment period from 30 to 40 years, this means many graduates will repay more, for far longer, substantially increasing the total cost.

“Tuition fees to drop to £7,500 – the primary beneficiaries are the highest earning graduates.”

Signs that funding for degree apprenticeships should be curtailed is disappointing – Stephen Isherwood, Institute of Student Employers

Stephen Isherwood, Institute of Student Employers’ (ISE) chief executive, said: “While the recognition that further education needs greater focus and funding is also welcomed, disincentivising businesses from creating the highly skilled apprenticeships they need at level six and above puts us in danger of recreating a two-tier system.

“Signs that funding for degree apprenticeships should be curtailed is disappointing and puts their development at risk at a time when employers are just starting to make the most of the levy and realise the benefits. Changing the rules this early makes a mockery of the Government’s position that the levy is employer led. We would like to see employers listened to regarding the qualification levels they need such as keeping the digital degree apprenticeship.”