University Alliance responds to the Higher Education reform consultation

Higher Education funding is in need of radical reform: University Alliance responds to the Higher Education reform consultation

University Alliance (UA), which represents the UK’s leading professional and technical universities, has today submitted its response to the Department for Education’s consultation on higher education reform.

The representative group argues that despite the transformative potential of policies such as the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE), and the constructive stance towards Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs), the consultation fails to address the most important issue facing higher education in England: a sustainable, future-proofed funding settlement that is fair for students, universities and taxpayers.

UCAS data from the last admissions cycle shows that demand for Higher Education has reached record levels, and over the next decade, we will see an almost 20% growth in the number of eighteen year olds (ONS). The government ought to be focusing its efforts on supporting higher education institutions to grow places to accommodate this increasing demand – not reduce them.

The UA response outlines how government proposals such as Minimum Eligibility Requirements (MERs) and Student Number Controls (SNCs), will only serve to crush aspiration and exacerbate disadvantage, put the pipeline for key sectors such as social work and computer science at risk, and create additional bureaucracy for minimal impact. The government’s own equality impact analysis highlights that MERs in particular will disproportionately affect poor and Black students most, undermining the government’s levelling up agenda.

UA objects to proposals on foundation years provision. Decreasing the fee level to £5,197 would make many foundation years financially unviable to deliver. Disadvantaged students and the ‘Covid Generation’ in particular will lose out if this provision is reduced or lost. Foundation years are a popular and vital means of ensuring students can reach their full potential and aspirations by helping them gain the entry level needed for a degree.

The government’s Lifelong Loan Entitlement proposal (UA’s response to which can be found here) is welcomed with strong support for the opportunity it could provide to students of all backgrounds and ages if implemented properly – including for the £60m investment intended for the Student Loan Company to support it.

UA released a blueprint this week on their vision for the successful delivery of the LLE, and how universities like those within the Alliance would be natural partners for government in helping to shape it.

Institutions need stability if they are to embrace not only the potentially transformative opportunities proffered by proposals like the LLE, but the investment and strategic risks needed to establish more alternative pathways to HE, like growing apprenticeships and HTQs. Without adequate funding, these will ultimately fail.

University Alliance CEO Vanessa Wilson said:

“The Higher Education funding system is fundamentally broken, and urgently needs to be fixed. The areas of focus for the proposed Higher Education reforms are way off the mark and if implemented, the casualties of which will be the poorest and most disadvantaged in society.

DfE ought to be focusing on a long-term solution for how HE can be funded in a fair and sustainable way that is fit for the future and the ambitions of a globally orientated UK, and which supports the government’s levelling up agenda. Until that happens, all proposals including the welcomed LLE will in effect be built on a house of cards and inevitably and regrettably doomed to fail.”

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