Last month a statement was posted on the Newcastle University Students’ Union website explaining the university’s stance on the Augar Review, a report published in May 2019 that set out government policy recommendations on the subject of higher education. The review was put forth by an independent panel chaired by Phillip Augar who did extensive research and a review of higher education institutions in the UK.
As stated in the review its purpose was to ‘consider the roles [both universities and other higher education institutions] should play in meeting the country’s social and economic needs, how they fit together, how they should be funded and whether they are delivering value for students and taxpayers.’ They argue that the financial burden of tuition fees should be a shared one between students, taxpayers and those who benefit most from higher education.
Some of the recommendations that came from the report were reducing tuition fees for students to £7500, but increasing the repayment threshold from its current 30 year period before the remaining debt gets written off, to a 40 year period of repayment. This is to ensure that those who benefit from higher education ‘contribute fairly’. They note that ‘public misunderstanding is high and better communication is required, including a new name, the Student Contribution System’ as opposed to ‘student debt’. The Augar Review recommends that more ‘graduates should repay their loans in full over their lifetimes’ but that interest should not be added. Importantly, the report recommends that maintenance grants for students from low-income households be reintroduced, in addition to ‘increasing and better targeting the government’s funding for disadvantaged students.’
The Union has conflicted opinions on the Augar Review. The blog post expresses that maintenance grants should never have been removed from policy, and that renaming debt the Student Contribution System ‘better reflects the reality of repayment, which should help ease student anxiety over the debt they graduate with and tackles another barrier that discourages many prospective students from going to university.’ However, they oppose the recommendation that tuition fees be reduced, fearing that the government will not fund the shortfall and that the arts and humanities become underfunded. NUSU also opposes the increased time recommended for repayment, because it means ‘substantially increasing the cost of education for the individual.’ They continue: ‘This isn’t just a negative for all graduates; lower earning graduates could find themselves their loan until they retire.’ The statement by NUSU ends with the reassurance that ‘for now, nothing is changing.’