I had the pleasure of chairing the launch event for HELP UK this morning. At the event I set out some of the reasons why University Alliance has undertaken this work which I wanted to share here more widely.
Our approach at University Alliance is to look for solutions and to provide constructive contributions to the debates surrounding higher education and research. This stems from a deep and historic commitment within Alliance universities to be solutions-orientated: working in partnership with others and producing innovative outputs. You see this in our graduates, our research, our business partnerships. And you hopefully see this in the approach we take as a collective through University Alliance.
So in looking at the issue of the future of higher education we wanted to take the same approach. There were certain limitations and issues with the way higher education is funded that we wanted to help find solutions to.
For a start, postgraduate students and two thirds of part-time undergraduate students do not have access to a student loan under the current system. We’ve seen a 40% drop in part-time and mature entrants since 2011-12. This is not the direction of travel this should be going. With rapid changes in technology, globalisation and increased economic uncertainty we need a higher education sector that can drive the UK’s competitiveness and can anticipate a new type of labour market. We need a far more flexible, robust and affordable student loan system that allows people to be acquiring high-level skills for the changing global economy. The current student loan system is far too limiting by focusing mainly on young undergraduates studying their first degree. We want to see a lifetime loan allocation brought in that would make it possible for people to re-train and up-skill throughout their career.
Secondly, we know that the projected public subsidy on existing student loans is too high – 45% and growing. If these projections are right, it means that for every £1 the government gives out in student loans, they will only get 55p back. The growing cost of this loan subsidy is not sustainable in the medium or long term.
We were keen to look at these problems and not simply shout from the sidelines, but get stuck in and look at some possible solutions to add to the debate.
HELP UK is our contribution to the debate. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.