Augar response ‘in coming weeks’, Treasury confirms

The long-awaited response to the review of post-18 education and funding may be released shortly, Treasury documents suggest

The chancellor of the exchequer has confirmed funding for skills and training – but the long-awaited response to the review of post-18 education, including changes to tuition fee caps, university funding and graduate loan repayments, was not mentioned in today’s Budget speech.

More than three years after the review of post-18 education and funding chaired by Phillip Augar delivered its findings to then-prime minister Theresa May, and over two years after the recommendations were published, the government says it has deferred its official and comprehensive response for “weeks”.

The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, did not refer to funding for higher education teaching during his Budget speech, but documents that accompanied the budget said the government would “set out further details of the Higher Education settlement alongside the response to the Augar report, which will be published in the coming weeks”.

The Augar review suggested lowering the tuition fee cap from £9,250 to £7,000 and changing the salary thresholds and timeframe at which graduates are eligible for tuition fee loan repayments.

Earlier this year, the Department for Education (DfE) published an interim response to the review.

Prior to the budget speech, Michelle Donelan told MPs that the DfE would “shortly” reveal its response to Augar. During a hearing of the House of Commons Education Select Committee, Ms Donelan said she would not “commit to an exact month”, but reassured members of the committee the plan would be revealed “soon”.

Statistics prepared for MPs by the House of Commons library show that the value of outstanding tuition fee loans at the end of March 2021 reached £141 billion. The government forecasts the value of outstanding loans to be around £560 billion (2019‑20 prices) by the middle of this century. Currently, the government expects a quarter of graduates to repay their loans in full. The minister told MPs that the figures raise questions “about whether [degrees] are value for money for the state”.

The 2021 spending review does, however, provide funding for the continuation of the Turing Scheme for the next three years, including £110 million for the academic year 2022/23.

There will also be £3.8bn for skills, the chancellor said.

The skills budget will include “meeting the government’s commitment to the National Skills Fund, by providing a 29% real-terms increase in adult skills funding from 2019-20 to 2024-25”. This commitment enables the expansion of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, the Treasury documents state but provide no details. The Treasury also confirmed funding for 20 new Institutes of Technology: these institutions are all founded by collaborations between colleges, universities and employers.

The Treasury announced it would increase apprenticeships funding to £2.7 billion by 2024-25 and would pay 95% of the apprenticeship training cost for smaller employers who do not pay the Apprenticeship Levy.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, warned that, “given major changes can take a couple of years to introduce, we will soon approach the point where it is not feasible to roll out really big new changes smoothly before the next election”.

The National Union Students said the chancellor had “made the decision to ghost students” by not introducing maintenance support for students. “Alongside other sector bodies including Universities UK, we asked for maintenance support that students can actually live on, and that won’t leave us with debts we can never repay,” said Hillary Gyebi-Ababio. “We demanded investment in mental health services. We made the case for funding in further education for living costs, and adult learning.”

Ms Gyebi-Ababio added: “We know that an announcement is coming in the next few weeks as the government finally responds to the Augar Review. We hope that the government considers the evidence we submitted to this spending review, and address the issues that plague students today.” 

 


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