Tory plans to make some university courses cheaper could have a serious impact on social mobility, former Education Secretary Justine Greening has warned her successor.
Greening, who was sacked as Education Secretary in the January reshuffle, claimed cutting the cost of humanities and social science subjects could deter students from poorer backgrounds signing up for more expensive science and engineering courses.
Her comments came after her successor in the job, Damian Hinds, said there could be “different aspects of pricing” for different subjects, based on the “value that it is to the student and also the value to society as a whole, and to our economy for the future.”
Greening, who refused to take another position in the Cabinet during the reshuffle, also called for maintenance grants to reintroduced – something which Hinds refused to commit to as he unveiled a review in higher education funding.
Appearing on ITV’s Peston on Sunday, Greening said: “The review is going to have a challenge working out what is a beneficial course.
“If you’re in the media industry and the creative industries this is one of our pretty important sectors for the economy.
“I think that many companies that have STEM degree skills shortages will wonder if it’s the right thing to make those degrees more expensive.
“I think the other thing that really matters from my perspective is social mobility and making sure that we don’t end up with a system where young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds will feel like maybe they ought to do one of the cheaper degrees rather than doing the degree that they actually want which will really unlock their potential and future.”
Hinds revealed plans to change the way fees would be calculated in an interview with the Sunday Times, saying they would be determined by “a combination of three things: the cost [to the university] to put it on, the benefit to the student and the benefit to our country and our economy”.
But asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning if certain courses could become cheaper, the Education Secretary replied: “I don’t think politicians are going to be setting the costs and the prices for different courses.
“All forms of education and all subjects have great value and great worth.
“What we need to look at is the different aspects of pricing, so the cost that it takes to put on the course, the value that it is to the student and also the value to society as a whole and to our economy for the future and there are some subjects, some areas both in higher education and in technical education where we’re going to need more of those coming forward in the future because of the changes and the challenges in the world economy.”
Hinds also refused to commit to restoring maintenance grants to the poorest students.
Hinds defended the current system of maintenance loans, which replaced grants in 2016, saying students now have “more access to money” than under the old system.
Students from the poorest backgrounds were previously entitled to grants of around £3,500, but they can now apply for a loan of up to £11,000.
But with the switch from a grant to a loan, students now leave university with record levels of debt.
Hinds was asked by Marr if maintenance grants could be brought back by the Government and replied: “Having maintenance loans has meant students can get more access to more money to help with the cost of living.”
He added: “I do appreciate the concerns that people have.”
When pressed on the issue, Hinds added: “The review is looking at all aspects of tertiary education funding.”
Greening said the review “probably needs to look at maintenance grants” as “there is a growing body of opinion we should look to reintroduce them if we can.”
She also said interest rates on student loans should be cut to zero to ease the cost of graduate repayments.