Mixed Reception for May’s Higher Education Review

On Monday, Theresa May announced her plans for a higher education funding review that could lead to a reduction in tuition fees.

Other plans for the review include her idea for a focus on vocational qualifications; suggesting that university should not be the sole choice, and education should instead be “flexible” to suit each individual.

The review has received a mixed reception. It has been described as an attempt from the Conservatives to try to entice young voters, who overwhelmingly voted for Labour in the last election.

May said in her announcement that the “competitive market between universities” was not working, as almost all universities charge the maximum amount. She proposed cutting fees for courses in the humanities, based on graduate salaries.

However, University of Bedfordshire vice-chancellor and former higher education minister Bill Rammell disagreed with this approach.

“You can’t judge the value of education based on the salary someone is going to earn […] it would create a two-tier system with poorer students gravitating towards cheaper degrees,” he stated.

Writing in the Guardian, Shadow Education secretary Angela Rayner said that Theresa May should simply follow Labour’s manifesto instead of calling for a review. This would mean a total abolition of tuition fees. May has argued, however, that that those benefiting from education should contribute towards the cost of their tuition.

Although May admitted in her announcement that the UK has “one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world,” she failed to acknowledge that it was her party, the Conservatives, who decided to scrap maintenance grants and increase tuition fees to £9,000. May voted in favour of both these measures.

Instead of lowering tuition fees, many have focused instead on the high living costs in university. A maintenance grant is no longer offered to students beginning university, increasing levels of graduate debt by forcing everyone to rely on loans. When asked, May refused to confirm if maintenance grants were going to be discussed in the review.

The review will be conducted by an independent panel chaired by Philip Augar, a financial writer and former non-executive director of the Department of Education. It will focus on choices within education, value for money, access to further education, and ensuring the system provides the skills needed for the future economy.

Rabeeah Moeen and Ian White