The Urgent Need for Sustainable Funding for Higher Education

Higher Education

Creating a long-term finance structure for post secondary education in each of the UK’s four countries is a critical political issue. It’s also a touchy political issue. Raising student tuition would be controversial, and eliminating it altogether would be costly in the cases where it occurs. Politicians are being silent about how to resolve their dilemma ahead of the inescapable general election and, I assume, are flinging their fingers hoping that no one will question them about it. Although this makes sense considering the limitations on public funding, the higher education industry cannot become financially sustainable by taking a “head in the sand” approach.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has released a new paper that explores a number of suggested higher education funding strategies. It examines how well-liked or poorly-liked these are by prospective students as well as how costly or beneficial they might be to the general budget.
The cost of the existing undergraduate degree finance schemes in Scotland and England to students, universities, and the public coffers is outlined in a research by London Economics. As previously observed in a London Economics report, graduates in England and the Scottish government bear a disproportionate amount of the cost of higher education.

Professor Shitij Kapur, Vice-Chancellor and President of Kings College London, quoted, “Universities are trapped in a “triangle of sadness” between aspiring students who feel burdened with debt and uncertain prospects, a stretched government that has allowed tuition fees to fall far behind inflation, and beleaguered university staff who feel caught in the middle.”

NUS member Chloe Field is an advocate for tearing down the marketization of higher education. This scenario proposes switching to public funding and doing away with tuition fees. According to London Economics’ modeling, this would cost £10.5 billion every cohort, which is a significant request given the state of the economy right now. It may come as a surprise to learn that providing free tuition only slightly increased the proportion of prospective students who said they would be likely to apply to colleges.

Former Minister of Universities and Science Jo Johnson suggests tying tuition fees to awards from the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). Under this arrangement, colleges would be able to raise tuition in accordance with inflation as long as they were granted a Gold or Silver TEF award. The goal of this concept is to correlate tuition costs with the caliber of instruction. It is simple to forget that yearly fee increases were formerly commonplace. When Labour first introduced its £3,000 fees, they increased annually in line with inflation. However, since 2012, Johnson is the sole Minister to have led the increase in the cap on fees, which went from £9,000 to £9,250 in 2017.

Fewer prospective students said they would be inclined to apply to universities under this model than under the existing one, suggesting that they are cautious about such increases. Some prospective students said that they would apply to a university with a lower TEF award in order to receive reduced tuition costs when asked whether this model would affect which university they would go to.
Should individuals act as promised—which is far from certain—there would be a chance that, given the challenging financial climate that students will face in the future, this proposal could inadvertently result in lower standards in higher education as students opt to attend less expensive universities with lower TEF awards. Here, it is also important to consider the associated possible influence on expanding participation.

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