COMMONS

Committee says Government must deliver higher education reforms as a package

10 November 2011

The Government must deliver its Higher Education reforms as a package says the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee in its Report on the government reform of Higher Education published today.

The committee supports proposals for the provision of better and more extensive information, advice and guidance for all prospective students, the extension of tuition fee loans to part-time students, and a clearer requirement on universities to widen participation.

Cost of education

While the committee recognises the need for graduates to contribute to the cost of their education, it concludes that the Government's communications strategy on tuition fees could have been more effectively realised.

The committee is not convinced that the Government's policies for widening participation will achieve its objectives as effectively as it may have hoped. It therefore urges the Government to:

"reconsider funding widening participation in higher education through a programme similar to the 'pupil premium'."

The committee also concluded that

"focusing financial support on providing money for living costs to students while they are studying would be a more effective means of support than fee-waivers and would be more consistent with the message that students should not be dissuaded from applying to university because of the cost."

The committee recommends that "the National Scholarship Programme be refocused to direct public funds to support living costs of students."

Reforms

The committee notes that the reforms are not yet complete with a number of consultation exercises are currently out for consultation, including early repayment penalties for loans, the future of student number controls, loans for students studying at alternative providers, "off quota" students and a new regulatory framework for new and alternative providers. The detail to be required in the Key Information Sets has yet to be finalised. There will also need to be changes to both OFFA and HEFCE to reflect their changing responsibilities in the Higher Education.

The committee highlights the fact that the new fee regime is to start at the beginning of the next academic year and states:

"We are concerned to ensure that these consultations will deliver the necessary coherent package of reforms to that timetable. It is vital that a new fee regime does not start without key aspects of the wider reform package in place."

The report also argues that:

"the reforms should be implemented as a package and not in a piecemeal way as. We therefore urge the Government to ensure that its delivery programme has sufficient flexibility to accommodate a later implementation to deliver its reforms. To do so would be seen as a strength both for Government and for the sector it seeks to reform."

Comments from the Chair 

Adrian Bailey MP, Chair of the Committee said:

"The Government's reforms of Higher Education are wide-ranging and comprehensive. While we welcome the aim to put students at the heart of the system, that ambition will only be realised if the Government deliver the reforms on time and as a package.

The start of the new academic year is less than a year away and many key aspects of the reforms - including vital support for students - are currently out for consultation. The Government will have to work overtime to deliver these reforms so that next years' intake of students have the information and support they were promised in exchange for their increased contributions to their education."

Further Information

Image: iStockphoto 

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