Your Vice President of Business and Law, Mary Copsey, attended an All-party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the 16th July to attend The Augar Review In focus: Post-18 Education and Research Review.
The Augar Review has recently been published, which is a review containing over 60 recommendations to improve post-18 education and funding in both Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE). Over 400 participants took part in creating the review, including students from around the country, employers and industry experts with the work being undertaken by an independent panel of industry experts, chaired by Phillip Augar.
To prepare for my visit to the House of Lords, I took it upon myself to read the 200+ plus document and reviewed the recommendations within the HE section. From this, I analysed the information and created a list of questions, concerns and recommendations on how this review could impact ARU students.
On the 16th July I attended the House of Parliament attending the APPG, alongside SU officers from around the country, MPs and APPG members. The APPG members and student officers asked a range of questions on apprentice protections, foundation years, and the role of the Office for Students (OfS), and the capacity of colleges to deliver given the impact of cuts.
The Augar Review Findings
Philip Augar and Bev Robinson discussed their findings of the review of post-18 education and funding, from this Zamzam Mumin, president of #NUS outlined key areas of student support covering student educational and welfare needs. Which opened the floor up for discussion where myself, alongside other officers, asked the panel with questions on the Augar report, further discussing the impact this could have on students.
Poor Value Courses
As officers we were presented with the opportunity to ask the panel questions, the general consensus presented was concerned with Poor Value courses (3.7) defining courses under components of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences degrees as High or Low value, introducing, a cap system clearly targeting institutions that are offering poor value. I got the opportunity to ask a follow-up question, to the question “How can you rate a course as high or low value”, to which the panel replied “they are NOT rating student degrees as high or low value (apparently) but have used that terminology based upon employment outcomes and linking that to a degree”.
My question to the panel was “thank you for your response on high and low value, I would like to add a following question if I may… I understand your view point but students and employers may view this differently, as putting “low value” next to someone’s degree could impact employer outcomes as well impact student welfare. At ARU we have a whole faculty of students within Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences which you have defined as “low/poor value courses” - what is being done to protect/support these students with employer outcomes? And as you stated you are not suggesting nor stating that their course is low value, therefore, why not change that terminology as a student or as an employer may have a different perspective on what a “low value degree" is.
The response I got back from Phillip and the panel was that they agree that once implemented the terminology should be changed; however they stated that the report is written now so they cannot change that. At this point we were running out of time but I was advised that my questions will be taken to parliament and will be considered.
Further discussions on the impact of scrapping student finance for Foundation Years, the high impact that this would have on students, as well as the university retention need to be had (?). The report currently states that “universities are using foundation years to create four-year degrees in order to entice students who do not otherwise meet their standard entry criteria”. As a collective, we questioned why can’t the fees be capped, in order to prevent unis advertising these courses at degree level and why would this be a problem? From this we shared concerns on how this would potential be cutting an access to education barrier to Higher Education.
Tuition Fees to Drop to £7,500 and repayment extension
The review recommends the fees for undergraduate HE to be reduced to 7,500 per year, with the overall resources for HE being maintained via a higher teaching grant, but one which is targeted more closely at high cost subjects. By applying this the aim is to broaden terms for resources to be ‘rebalanced’ away from humanities courses and in favour of STEM. The report further recommends to extend the repayment period to 40 years (currently 30), which could be viewed as a catch 22 as we argued that both of these recommendations could negatively impact graduates (predominantly female) with moderate earnings, as they are likely to end up repaying more over the extended repayment period than is currently the case. At ARU the gender ratio is 65% female and 35% Male (July.2019), for the students of the future this could dramatically affect ARU students’ employability outcomes as well as increase financial pressures, unless the government investigates making the gender pay gap fair across all genders.
Other discussion points:
- Reviewing FE and HE resources and misalignment
- The decline in student numbers in both FE and HE
- Discussion points around the skills gap in the UK as well as how our productivity is low compared to other countries
- Better return for tax payers and “value for money”
- Better value for students
- Sector needs (no student his/her or them/they should not pay more for their degree
- Disadvantaged students – higher student dept. and the attainment gap
- The Augar report and student voice collection (over 400 respondents took part in the review – HE and FE as well as employers)
- Discussion around student panels and student focused groups.
- Transparency for HE funding
- Rent costs and the impact on student welfare and student educational impact
- How/will the government take this forward.
Overall thoughts on the day were that is was very rushed! I and other officers reported that the APPG needed to be much longer as just when discussion started to pick up and we got kicked out of the room. I however, did find the session useful as well as a great opportunity to network.
It is important to note that this report has not yet been acted upon by the government, and therefore will not affect any current students at Anglia Ruskin University. The recommendations that the Augar report presents, if implemented, will impact future students. However, this is all dependent on our new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and the government on whether the recommendations will be implemented at all, or whether they decide on selecting some recommendations and applying them.
Some of the recommendations will impact universities across the HE sector quite dramatically financially, including ARU. Therefore, we can only hope the government does not disregard the report and carefully considers the recommendations in support of students, their universities and the impact on the Higher Education Sector.
If all of the above recommendations were to be implemented the main winners are:
- High earning (predominantly male) graduates, who would repay less, and pay off the lower loans more quickly;
- Students from less well-off backgrounds receiving maintenance grants;
- Higher education institutions offering a substantial component of high-cost Medicine, Dentistry and STEM subjects.
The recommendations that I felt could impact ARU are: 3.1, 3.6, 3.7 and 3.8. If you would like to read these please use the link to the report: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/post-18-review-of-education-and-funding-independent-panel-report.
Other useful links
Rachel Wilkenson (ARU Representation Coordinator) has written an article based upon the student perspective of the Augar review and the impact on foundation years: https://wonkhe.com/blogs/shaky-foundations-student-perspectives-on-foundation-years/
NUS Education on the edge campaign: https://www.nusconnect.org.uk/campaigns/education-on-the-edge
WONKHE: Who are the winners and losers from the Augar review: https://wonkhe.com/blogs/who-are-the-winners-and-losers-from-the-augar-review