Review finds “clear agreement” that top-up fees have not deterred students

Lord Browne’s preliminary findings also indicate that the finance system for part-time students is inadequate. Rebecca Attwood reports

The Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance has set out its initial findings and called for views on how the system should be funded in the future.

A paper published on 15 March summarises evidence from about 80 submissions presented to the review, which is being led by Lord Browne of Madingley.

The document says there is “clear agreement” that the introduction of top-up fees has not led to a fall in full-time participation, but there is also a consensus that the student finance system for part-time students is inadequate.

While student expectations have increased since top-up fees came in, there is disagreement about whether the quality of the student experience has improved.

The panel adds that top-up fees have not made the higher education system any less reliant on public finds, with every pound of fee income being matched by about a pound in additional cost to taxpayers.

The panel also found:

• clear evidence that bursaries are not understood by students early enough to have a substantial impact on their choices

• consensus that potential students need better information, advice and guidance, including information on the teaching experience they can expect on different courses

• some concerns that a minority of students are deterred by top-up fees

• that there has been progress over the past five years in widening participation to higher education, but that this has been less marked at the most selective universities.

The panel will now focus on the future funding of teaching, the student finance system, the cap on student numbers, the cap on tuition fees and investment in different types of provision, including for part-time students.

It will also look at ways to increase the engagement of employers in higher education, at the regulation and governance of universities, and at the information made available to potential students.

Speaking at City University London, Lord Browne said: “To find a solution that will work, we, and those responding to us, must look at the system as a whole.

“There are no easy answers, but we are convinced that by being ambitious about the future of higher education, we can deliver a lasting long-term solution.”

The deadline for responses to the second phase of the review is Friday 14 May and these should be submitted online at www.independent.gov.uk/HEreview.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com

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