Positioning for the student loan overhaul

31 July 2014
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Is this really the time to be discussing the possibility of even higher university tuition fees?
BBC’s Newsnight on Monday evening opened an interesting can of educational worms.
One reason why the government has capped university tuition fees at £9,000 a year in England is to protect the Treasury; to paraphrase a close friend of mine, who runs an online loan program, higher fees mean bigger loans and so more losses. If universities were to share some risk, the Treasury might allow them to charge more.

Graduates who are earning under £21,000 a year currently don’t repay their loans and for those that do make repayments, after 30 years any outstanding debt is written off – paid for by the Treasury.

Higher education institutions could, in future, buy that debt as students graduated. The price could vary from institution to institution – but the big idea is that institutions would profit if their students repaid more of their debt. Another way of looking at this is that universities will do all they can to ensure that their graduates would bag the higher paying graduate jobs. Great for lawyers and investment bankers: perhaps not so good for social workers and historians then!

With student expectations and their perception of value for money a burning topic already for the universities, this can only add fuel to that fire.

What will be the impact on course selection? Will it turn back the clock on demographically diverse student intakes – the acceptance of women or those from less “promising” backgrounds for example?

Universities will have to be very clear indeed as to what their proposition is and be able to demonstrate their value for money. But what will be the real cost of the further commoditisation of our higher education?

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