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Cap doesn’t fit: let’s raise it incrementally

1994 Group’s submission to fees review calls for greater competition in the academy to ‘enhance excellence’. John Gill reports

The cap on tuition fees should be raised in stages to a level that generates “genuine competition” in the university sector, the 1994 Group has recommended.

The body representing smaller research-intensive universities says in its submission to the second phase of Lord Browne of Madingley’s review of fees and funding that a market of this sort would “enhance excellence in teaching and learning”. It stops short of recommending the precise level at which the cap should stand.

The group also recommends that the government change the system for allocating student numbers to “reward universities that show high retention and completion rates”.

It supports the introduction of a “less regulated environment” in the academy, with institutions allowed to compete against each other for quotas within an overall national cap on numbers.

Arguing that quality “can only be maintained by increasing funding”, the group also sets out principles that it says are essential for a sustainable sector.

It says that while the unit of funding – the amount of money per student – must rise, higher education should be “free at the point of use”, and that the poorest students should have their fees subsidised and receive non-repayable financial support.

Its submission also argues that “the artificial barrier between full-time and part-time students is unacceptable in a modern, diverse and accessible higher education system”, and says that the support available to full-time students should be extended to part-timers and postgraduates.

It adds that two “fundamental guarantees” should be adopted: that no student is unable to attend university because of cost; and that universities remain committed to improving the student experience for all.

Other proposals in the 1994 Group’s submission include plans for a variable system of bursaries funded from sources including private donations, and measures to address the “huge student-loan subsidy” by charging interest above the government’s rate of borrowing.

It also suggests changes to the Quality Assurance Agency and the Higher Education Funding Council for England to “enhance institutional autonomy and remove over-regulation”, and says that the Office for Fair Access should be scrapped.

john.gill@tsleducation.com

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