We strongly welcome the recognition Lord Browne has given to the central role that universities play in the UK’s economic recovery and international competitiveness. Higher education is an investment in the engine of an innovation-driven economy and is a central component of any strategy to reduce the deficit whilst increasing growth.
Browne’s proposals for a graduate contribution scheme are an opportunity to introduce a fair and progressive system for students, graduates, universities and government alike. There is, however, a considerable job still to do on the part of Government to achieve a fundamental shift in understanding that it is graduates that are being asked to contribute, not students. The language of ‘fees’, ‘debt’ and ‘burden’ continue to frame the debate. Central to this is the concept of financial risk. All of the evidence suggests that students from poor backgrounds are not debt averse but they are appropriately risk averse. The government needs to differentiate graduate contribution from the public perception of financial risk associated with student debt.