Last year Labour (in conjunction with the other main parties) commissioned Lord Browne, a previous Chief Executive of BP, to lead a review of higher education funding and student finance. His recently released report (strategically delayed until after the election) and the government’s repsonse contain some hard truths to swallow: tuition fees will rise, university funding will be cut.

The Browne Report is illustrated with the obligatory photographs of students smiling and carrying books, but does his report contain anything that will keep any student smiling for long?

The main proposal from the Browne Report is the removal of the £3,290 a year ‘cap’ on tuition fees, leaving institutions to set their own rate, in theory tuition fees could raise to around £12,000 although it is unlikely many students will be charged this. Business Secretary Vince Cable suggests most universities will charge students between six and seven thousand pounds a year; almost double the current rate.

…a 10% rise in university places over the next four years is promised…

Lord Browne proposes to maintain the current system of repaying student loans, although increasing the threshold for repayments to graduates earning £21,000 a year and over.

Following the record number of applications that failed to find a place at university this year, a 10% rise in university places over the next four years is promised, although this will still leave tens of thousands of potential students disappointed. Career’s advice is to undergo a ‘radical overhaul’, with a new focus on helping students make the ‘correct choice’, which appears to be a veiled attempt to reiterate Universities Minister David Willetts ‘must aim lower’ proposal.

…“bear a greater load”…

A rise in the cost of studying will help counterbalance the expected £4.2bn cuts to university funding (£3.2bn is expected to be cut from the teaching grants, and £1bn from research). The Prime Minister promised “those with broader shoulders” are to “bear a greater load” of government cuts. In what sense are the majority of students living off baked beans or can’t afford heating among the country’s elite?

Lord Browne appears confident creating a free university market will encourage competition and increase quality. With graduate loans predicted to rise to around £40k and the graduate jobs market in its current state, people from working and middle class backgrounds will find university increasingly unattractive.

…“foolish, lazy and risky”…

In a statement from NUS, President Aaron Porter described the changes to university and student finance as “foolish, lazy and risky”, he continues:

“Lord Browne’s review would hand universities a blank cheque and force the next generation to pick up the tab for devastating cuts to higher education… there is no clear assurance that a hike in fees would improve student choice or quality, and the evidence since fees tripled four years ago shows that neither student satisfaction nor quality has improved.”

…cut opportunities for students and weaken the economy…

Lord Browne’s Report is entitled ‘Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education’. Reforming university funding may help with the coalition’s deficit reduction plan, but in the long term cuts will adversely affect the quality of our higher education universities, cut opportunities for students and weaken the economy; the sustainability of British Higher Education looks incredibly shaky.

NUS and UCU plan to march against education cuts. For more information see www.demo2010.org

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