Augar: students ‘unconvinced’ by drop in tuition fees

A study by Hepi concluded that students support the reintroduction of maintenance grants for the poorest students

A new poll suggests students are “unconvinced” by the proposed drop in tuition fees outlined in the Augar review.

The study conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) asked over 1,000 full-time undergraduate students their opinion on living costs, tuition fees and maintenance loans.

Student opinion was divided over fees, with no clear preference for either the present-day system or the one proposed in the review: 40% said they preferred the status quo and 41% preferred the Augar model.

The current system allows universities to charge £9,250 a year, with students repaying loans over 30 years. The Augar review suggested capping tuition fees at £7,500 a year and extending the repayment period to 40 years.

In response to the survey, 59% put the cost of living as their biggest financial concern – nearly three times the number that said tuition fees. More than half of respondents rely on contributions from their parents with around half of those receiving more than £1,000 a year towards living costs.

The findings also suggest more than half of students back the in the Augar review to reintroduce maintenance grants. Grants for students from poorer background were withdrawn in 2015 by chancellor George Osborne and replaced with loans.

The Augar review was commissioned by Theresa May, who said at the launch of the report: “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.”

Read more: Record number of disadvantaged students to start at university this year

Despite concerns over cost of living, 57% said living away from home was important to them and 49% said they would do so even it meant higher costs.

Rachel Hewitt, Hepi’s director of policy and advocacy, said: “Many believe that in the current political environment the eagerly anticipated Augar review is dead in the water. The current minority Government lacks both the political sway and desire to implement the report’s recommendations.

“Our polling shows students are also split in their views on whether Augar should be implemented. They find the recommendation of lowering fees to £7,500 is no more appealing than the current system. Instead students’ main priority is the money available for living costs and ensuring the system operates fairly by reintroducing maintenance grants for the poorest students.”

“With an election potentially around the corner, politicians should take heed of students’ priorities. A winning offer to students may not involve focusing on tuition fees but instead on less headline-grabbing aspects, such as the maintenance system and interest rates.”

A government spokesperson commented on the findings: “We want to ensure we have a joined-up education system that is accessible to all and encourages the development of the skills we need as a country. The recommendations were part of an independent report to government and we will be considering Philip Augar’s recommendations carefully.”

The Sunday Times reported in early October that the Augar review had been quietly dropped, according to government sources. Capping tuition fees would reduce debt incurred by the public.

According to a House of Commons research briefing from June 2019, more than £16bn is loaned to students each year. The value of outstanding loans reached £121bn this year and the government predicts that figure will increase to £450bn (2018/19 prices) by 2050. “The expansion of loans has raised questions about graduate repayments and ultimately the cost of the system to the taxpayer,” the research briefing notes.

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