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In a week when the government reshuffled its cabinet, HE issues that made headlines gave the newly-appointed universities minister a taste of things to come, says Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers .
The past week’s events and news are a sign of turbulent times for UK universities, warns Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University.
Leading vice-chancellors have strongly urged the Labour leadership to reconsider its proposal to reduce tuition fees to £6,000 a year.
In a letter to The Times signed by 20 vice-chancellors who are all board members of Universities UK, including its President Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, they warn that pressure on public finances makes it “implausible” that a Labour government would be able to make up for the £10 billion of lost income that would result from lowering fees over five years.
“The result would be cuts to universities that would damage the economy, affect the quality of students’ education, and set back work on widening access to higher education,” the letter says.
Saving money to cover the cost of the fee cut by re-imposing a cap on student numbers would remove opportunities for young people and hinder economic growth, it adds.
The vice-chancellors reiterate an argument made last week by Professor Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter, that as fees are not repaid until a graduate starts to earn over £21,000, cutting the headline fee will benefit higher-earning graduates the most.
“A better way of supporting students, especially those from poorer backgrounds, would be for the government to provide greater financial support for living costs,” the letter suggests.
The letter follows growing speculation, fuelled by comments from Labour business spokesman Chuka Umunna, that Labour is poised to propose the introduction of a graduate tax to fund its fees and student finance plan. The party is reportedly preparing to introduce a graduate tax “in the medium term”.
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