K E Y P O I N T S
- Prime Minister Theresa May announces a year-long independent review of tuition fees and university funding, saying Britain has “one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world”
- “The review will examine how we can give people from disadvantaged backgrounds an equal chance to succeed,” May announced, including the potential return of maintenance support
- May also hopes to promote vocational and technical routes, which many parents see as “something for other people’s children”
- PM admits raising cap to £9,250 per year has failed to create “competitive” market for fees
- But rules out matching Labour in eliminating fees altogether
- A former stockbroker, an economist and a vice-chancellor will join the panel - but May was immediately criticised for not announcing any student representation
S N A P V E R D I C T
In typical Theresa May fashion there’s a lot in the prime minister’s announcement that requires just waiting and seeing - but the question students present and future will have after today is simply ‘what does this actually mean for me’?
If you’re a current student? Not much. Any recommendations out of this year-long review will take effect long after you’ve graduated. However, if you’re a teen going about your A-Levels or GCSEs (or indeed a parent of one) though, there’s more here for you.
The review has four priorities.
1 - “Ensuring everyone can access higher education”, which translates simply to broadening access to the best and most suitable courses.
2 - “How our funding system provides value for money”, which though vague, hints toward addressing the escalating cost of life as a student, or a return of maintenance grants in one form or another, as our Paul Waugh alluded to in this morning’s Waugh Zone.
3 - Could “incentivising choice and competition” include the lowering of fees for certain courses? The idea of variable pricing for certain subjects was touted in briefings over the weekend, and then panned by experts.
4 - The final priority, “how to deliver the skills the country needs”, may end up being the most interesting long-term result of the review. As technological advances such as automation and machine learning continue apace, the very nature of work as we know it is changing. Arming graduates with the knowledge and skills for that future is vital to Britain’s economic fate.
In all, May acknowledging there are failings with the current system is positive for future students - but whether the government is then prepared to commit to extra funding or another progressive solution is a different question.
What we can say though is that today’s announcement is a victory for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. Drastic action on tuition fees was a key pillar of the party’s 2017 manifesto and clearly spooked the Conservatives to the extent they feel the need to fight back. The political problem for May, however, is this announcement hands a double victory to Corbyn. May is admitting failure by her own party over the past seven years - but not promising as radical a solution as the opposition’s oath to end fees outright. Will any students be convinced this is a better offer?
R E A C T I O N
W H A T N E X T ?
The announcement of a review is, in itself, a positive development but far from enough to confront the many issues facing young people in Britain and convince them the Tories are the party that’s on their side. From stagnating wages to the housing crisis to the degradation of our environment, there’s much more work for the government to do there.
Polling around last year’s election showed NHS funding, rent caps, and the living wage were areas both more immediately relevant to young people and of higher priority with the electorate. And even though Labour’s policy to end fees was supported by 49% of the public, just 4% of voters plumped for Labour because of that promise.
What this tells us is that while lessening the burden for young people is generally met with approval, fiddling with fees is just one part of the puzzle.