Week beginning 10/07/17
Pressure grows to rethink tuition fees and maintenance loans
Over the past fortnight, representatives of all three main political parties have voiced concerns over the sustainability of the student finance system as it stands. The Institute of Fiscal Studies added fuel to these flames last week with the publication of their report on the subject, entitled ‘Higher Education Funding in England: Past, Present and Options for the Future’.
This report found that ‘English higher education now sees students from the poorest 40% of families graduate with the highest debts: £57,000. These are repayable at 6.1% (RPI+3%) in cash terms from September 2017, meaning that an additional £5,800-£6,500 will be accrued by all students during study and up to £40,000 in interest is repayable by high graduate earners during the lifetime of the loan. The current system of maintenance loans – which replaced maintenance grants in 2015 – is reported as the primary cause of this overall regressive change to the distribution of debt by parental income, even though the fee loan system itself could be considered progressive’. More on the report’s conclusions can be found here.
The Guardian’s recent interview with one graduate emphasised that many prospective students did not realise interest would begin to accrue on their loan as soon as they enrolled. This, she noted, ‘should have been made much clearer’. The level of debt has also dissuaded some of her friends from considering higher education. For this reason, a form of graduate tax is preferred by many experts, although any major structural overhaul of the student finance system will be long drawn-out and riven with controversy.
Preparing your university for a visit by Donald Trump
This Wonkhe article ponders how universities might best respond to the prospect of a visit from the 45th President of the United States. Asking a number of academic staff at institutions across the country, the consensus was that he must be made welcome, as any refusal to admit him onto university property would ‘simply support the view that academic institutions are elitist…that we are staffed by people who believe they hold values that are superior to those around them’. One Professor stressed that ‘it is important that we take every opportunity to challenge discrimination; otherwise we risk legitimizing Trump’s views and policies with our silence’.
Such a visit would presumably spark a re-ignition of the debate surrounding ‘free speech’ and the politics of ‘no-platforming’. Considering Trump’s history of alleged sexist, racist homophobic, transphobic and ableist behaviour, there will be some who object to his presence on the grounds that it violates the safe space that a university has a duty to create for students that belong to these liberation groups.
The article does acknowledge that such a visit would undoubtedly inspire protests from students, staff and the surrounding community, mobilized by the NUS and trade unions. Many campuses are used to dealing with pickets outside events featuring controversial speakers. Trump’s profile would likely draw a larger crowd however, and together with the heightened security that will inevitably accompany him wherever he goes, any campus visit would be incredibly fraught.
Highlights from the week’s papers
Expectation mismanagement - applicants are unprepared to university life, and admissions services and schools are responsible for helping them.
Poorer students are being penalised - NUS VP Higher Education, Amatey Doku, lays out his position on tuition fees and maintenance loans.