THE vice-chancellor of an Anglican foundation university has warned of “great turbulence” in the higher-education sector, which could force smaller institutions to the wall, if the new tuition-fees review is implemented.
Professor Rob Warner, Vice-Chancellor of Plymouth Marjon University, condemned as “obnoxious and regressive” the recommendation in the Augar review, published by the Department for Education last week, that students should repay their loans earlier and over a longer period of time, which, he said, would hit those going into middle-income jobs, such as teachers and nurses, hardest. Many of the Anglican-foundation universities began as teacher-training colleges, and still produce many teaching graduates.
He said: “As a result of the proposed extension to the payment period, middle-income earners like teachers and nurses will pay £14,000-£16,000 more — I can’t imagine anything which can possibly justify this regression. Those who will benefit are those who go on to earn the highest salaries on graduation. Having a system that favours the highest-paid graduates would be obnoxious.”
Many in the higher-education sector had expected the review, chaired by the former equities broker Dr Philip Augar, to call for a cut to the interest rate charged on tuition-fee loans, which is currently 6.3 per cent. Professor Warner said that the lack of change to this was “completely unreasonable”.
The headline recommendation of the report was for tuition fees to be lowered from £9250 to £7500 per year.
This would equate to a reduction in income for universities of 11 to 14 per cent, and smaller specialised institutions would simply not survive such a cut, he warned.
“Many are operating in a deficit situation already — though happily we are not — and such reduction would produce a very significant risk to the sector. Many of the Cathedrals Group of universities are smaller, and, while we don’t benefit from economies of scale, we tend not to be running some of the very expensive undergraduate programmes. We would find a way to make it work, but some smaller institutions would be unviable, and some of the larger universities, which have taken out very large loans, would have to reposition themselves.”
The review also suggested that the maintenance grant, scrapped by the Conservative government in 2015, should be reinstated, a suggestion which the outgoing Prime Minister has encouraged her successor to adopt.
Mr Warner said that the university sector as a whole would welcome such a move, and particularly the Anglican foundation universities, which often serve a higher proportion of disadvantaged students who are attracted to smaller institutions and more “supportive environments”.
“Church-foundation institutions tend to have a greater percentage of students from deprived areas and from working-class backgrounds; so maintenance grants are appropriate to help widen opportunities for these students.”