Policy Sandra Booth

Policy Briefing – June, 2019

Augur Review
The Post-18 Education Review Panel, led by Philip Augar, has published its 53 recommendations for investment and reform, heeding that this should be taken as an integrated piece rather than future ministers just cherry picking their favourite aspects from a simple summary;

Maximum university fees of £7,500 a year resulting in a 36% fall in fee income to HEIs according to UUK and London Economics
Maintenance grants for students from low income households

Student loan to be renamed ‘Student contribution system’
Bringing the loan repayment threshold back down

No graduate will have to pay back more than 1.2 times the value of their loan

Loan to be wiped after 40, not 30 years
Individuals should be able to draw down their HE loan allowance over a lifetime

Funding targeted to disadvantaged students and high value and high cost subjects
Addressing the ‘missing middle’ sub-degree level plethora of provision and pathways
Increased flexibility in funding and student loans: learners should be able to access student finance for tuition fee and maintenance support for modules of prescribed HE qualifications at Level 4, 5 and 6.

Augur is an advisory report which has landed in the policy discourse at a time of political instability. However, the headline fee of £7,500 is now in the public domain as a media grabbing ”announceable” intervention to address some of the issues consistent with reducing the deficit and surrounding the affordability of HE both to the Treasury and to individual students. Central to Augur is a robust attempt to address the fundamental questions when it comes to HE; Who benefits? Who pays?

Much analysis (expertly summarised by WonkHE) has been undertaken, evidence of impact on individual HEIs modelled, scrutinised and debated. Criticism continues over whether the review is progressive enough, or regressive in that it would disadvantage graduate earners (predominantly females) with moderate income. Many welcome the proposed reintroduction of maintenance grants, the emphasis on addressing underfunding in FE and levels 4/5, and the extension of loans towards lifelong learning.

CHEAD concerns and top priorities are in regards to the impact on some Arts subjects and specialist institutions, real terms cuts to the unit of resource if eligibility to the top up teaching grant is skewed away from AMD, how pitting arts against science is unhelpful, looking at differential impacts across the devolved nations and finally, the implications for Foundation Degrees.
With the current system based on unfettered access to student loans, the growth in AMD provision and the popularity of our subject area driven by student choice leading to a rising supply of graduates, Treasury’s view is that this unconstrained growth needs to be challenged or at least channelled in some way by the funding structures.
The Report proposes, should the government decide to reduce overall tuition fee levels, that the reduction should at least be partially offset by increasing teaching grants, with priority given to high-cost subjects. The government should also avoid a system in which tuition fees vary by subject, specialist institution or university. Varying fees by subject with the intention to steer students toward high labour market driven courses has been ineffective when applied in other countries, with demand remaining largely unresponsive to changes in price (with the exception of USA).
Our main concerns stem from the Review’s assumed deprioritisitation of certain discipline areas which seems counter intutive to future skills demands and the advancing pace of AI and creative technologies.
“But we question whether the sheer number of students taking subjects such as Creative Arts and Design and Social Studies, the current grant top-up, and the large likely debt write-off given these graduates’ predicted earnings, constitute good value for taxpayers’ money.” Augur 2019.

CHEAD will challenge Augur on three key areas;
The perceived over supply of arts graduates.
AMD should have access to the teaching grant for high cost and strategically important subjects.
The basis of value cannot be measured in purely economic terms as this does not fully reflect the dynamics of Arts graduate employment .

Responding to the Review, CIF are concerned that the key measure of value relies primarily on earnings, and the report rightly recognises that wider measures of value should also be taken in to account for policy and decision making. This measure disregards broader social, cultural and wider economic contributions delivered by creative graduates, and the fact that many people within the sector actively choose to take roles that do not command huge salaries because they believe in the agency, importance and impact of the work they do.

John Last, Vice Chancellor at Norwich University of the Arts and Chair of UKADIA gives a great account in a HEPI blog of the importance of creative arts to the Industrial Strategy which is already being implemented and should not be derailed by conflicting policy consequences of disinvestment in HE provision that supports the Creative Industries and wider economy.

Publisher: Sandra Booth