A new, independent inquiry is expected to recommend tuition fee cuts that universities and social-mobility charities warn will lead to fewer places if the government fails to make up the difference.
The reduction in tuition fees will be from the current £9,250 cap to £7,500, as is expected to be proposed by the ‘Post-18 Review of Education and Funding’ – to be published later this month.
Since it was commissioned by the government in 2017, the role of the panel has been investigating whether the current higher education system delivers value for money for students and taxpayers in England. If carried out, the cuts could total around £3 billion.
According the Higher Education Policy Institution, most universities spend 40%-45% of tuition fees on teaching undergraduates. Capping tuition fees to £7,500 will inevitably force some universities to cut back on the teaching services they provide.
In anticipation of the report, the Russell Group of universities and social mobility charities released a joint statement voicing their opposition to the cuts. If the funding gap is not filled, they warn, then it will lead to a de-facto cap on student numbers as they will not be able to cover the cost of running some courses.
They add that the “proposed reforms could make disadvantaged students significantly worse off” and go on to “call on Ministers to help ensure that social mobility gains are not sent into reverse”. Their argument is that if there are fewer university places, then the resulting increase in competition will lead to a decrease in students from poorer backgrounds.
Yet Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, says that students are “being ripped off” over the current cost of tuition. During a talkRADIO interview, he says students “are underemployed and in debt” whilst “universities are making a lot of money out of young people and a lot are being misled”, entering careers that have no use for their degrees. Though he too concedes that the cuts will likely reduce places and social mobility.
The proposed changes are also most likely to have the biggest impact on “non-Russell Group” universities, where some have already suffered from falling student numbers. London Metropolitan University has seen the largest fall in the country at -62% (2007-08, 2016-17), followed by West London (-44%) and Cumbria (-41%). Without adequate funding, these already-struggling universities could face closure.