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Behind the HE headlines is one key question – the purpose of universities

The past week’s higher education news demonstrates that there are certain expectations of universities that policymakers, HE leaders and the Augar review are expected to address, says Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of the Engineering Professors’ Council and Chief Executive of outreach organisation Push .

30 VCs sign new Civic University Agreement

Leaders of thirty universities have signed a Civic University Agreement, reaffirming their institution's commitment to their local communities by pledging to put the economy and quality of life in their home towns and cities at the top of their list of priorities.

How to improve the student experience -- ask the students themselves

Jenny Shaw , Student Experience Director at Unite Students, draws lessons on the higher education sector's efforts to improve the student experience from a week of HE news and views.

HEi-think: Why universities should support two year degrees

From this September, students will be able to opt to study an accelerated two year degree, as opposed to a traditional three year course. Professor Malcolm Todd, Provost (Academic) at the University of Derby, discusses why universities should consider the change in legislation and look to offer accelerated degrees.

Think tank report calls for fees to be capped as low as £5,000

Tuition fees should be capped at as low as £5,000 and the interest rate on student loans lowered to match inflation levels, according to a report published by the free-market think tank the Centre for Policy Studies.

The report by the former investment banker Michael Johnson who ran David Cameron’s Economic Competitiveness Policy Group accuses the government of missing a chance to take more radical action on tuition fees by deciding to freeze them at £9,250.

The fees freeze was announced at the Conservative Party conference by Prime Minister Theresa May, along with an increase in the salary threshold at which students have to start repaying their loans from £21,000 to £25,000.  She also announced a major review of university funding, looking at issues such as how to vary the fees charged for each course.

Although the rise in the loans repayment threshold is “an acknowledgement that a fairer funding split between students and the state is required”, it could in practice see student debt write-offs sky-rocket and create a financial time bomb for future taxpayers, according to Johnson, a CPS fellow.

While the Government estimates that one-third of student loans will have to be written off, Johnson calculates the figure at more like 60 per cent or even possibly 75 per cent.

His report, Tuition Fees: A Fairer Fomula, adds: “Cutting the interest rate and the fee cap would lower students’ headline debt burden, and cause expected write-offs to plummet. This would be greatly appreciated by prospective students, and would simplify the student loan framework.”

The current repayment threshold should be maintained, says the report. A lower fees cap of £7,500, or even £5,000, together with a reduced loans interest rate,  would lower the debt burden for graduates and ensure that the Government gets more of its money back.

The proposals would create a funding gap for universities, Johnson acknowledges, which would need to be filled by central government. He recommends mitigating the costs by separating teaching from research, and treating research as investment rather than expenditure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theresa May "missed opportunity"
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