Theresa May’s tuition fee review – what next?

This week, Theresa May announced a year- long tuition fee review. There was not much information to go on, but the announcement sparked a largely critical press response. The Times writes: “Wrong-headed on so many counts. “The whole thing is a complete muddle,” says one minister.”

Given the coverage, the announcement may not succeed in engaging with young voters.

Why the review?

There are solid fundamental reasons for reviewing our higher education funding. For one, it’s expensive. Student loans have high interest rates and low repayment levels.

It is also healthy to review the role of university degrees along with technical education and professional training such as apprenticeships. Theresa May said she would like to put an end to “outdated attitudes” that favour university over technical education.

The controversy

One of the key ideas is potentially to encourage universities to charge less for social science and humanities courses – which cost less to provide – than those covering science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) disciplines.

On the face of it, this makes sense. However, there is a need for more STEM graduates. Making these courses the more expensive options will drive students away from them, especially poorer students.

What next?

We will wait and see how this topic evolves. However, the story reminds us of some interesting fundamentals:

  • England’s tuition fees are higher than most other countries.
  • University applications keep on rising, but poorer people are still less likely to go to university.
  • Students graduate with an average of over £50k debts, and the overall debt has doubled in the last four years.
  • Students are dissatisfied. They think they are getting poor value for money. Five years ago, 53% of students thought university was “good” or “very good” value. This has now slumped to its lowest level of 35%.

Our recommendations

Students have an increasingly assertive voice. They are not happy, and the government appears to be floundering. Here’s what we think higher education organisations should be thinking about:

Understand and make clear the advantages you can offer over alternatives – for example:

  • Dedicated purpose- built space and facilities for education, experimentation and study.
  • Face to face teaching and learning

Focus on the following:

  • Student feedback. Students will vote with their feet. This applies in particular to student facilities, which are the second most important factor (after subject course) when a student decides where to study.
  • Building partnerships between industry and education
  • Ensure that your estates are productive and that you utilise them to the max
  • Create a strong brand identity that clearly states what you excel in – Industry, Innovation, Business, Research, or Academic pursuit. Commit to this by making your physical space an enabler for your students (and staff) to achieve their aspirations – and get their money’s worth.
  • Reduce your costs! Money is one of the core drivers so you need to continue to stop unnecessary spend, and clearly show people that is what you’re doing.
  • Continue to reduce your carbon footprint.

Recommended reading

Download Our ultimate guide to improving higher education performance.

Please talk to us about any of the points raised here and in the guide.

News articles about the Fees Review

Education experts criticise Theresa May’s university tuition fees review plans

The muddle is as bad as dementia tax

Will fee reviews make a difference

Stats:

Degrees that make you rich and the ones that dont

10 charts that show the effect of tuition fees

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