UK government prioritising savings in review of post-18 education | Universities

When former Prime Minister Theresa May announced a review of education and funding in England after 18 years in February 2018, many saw it as a vague response to better-than-expected Labor results in the 2017 general election, prompting Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment cancel student tuition fees.

It was a time of growing concern about rising student debt and the loss of maintenance grants for the most disadvantaged. But while those fears persist today, the main focus of the reforms announced by the government on Thursday has undoubtedly been to cut spending on the Treasury to finance England’s increasingly cumbersome student credit system.

The numbers are watering. According to the Department of Education, the value of outstanding loans by the end of March 2021 amounted to 161 billion pounds, and it is projected that by 2043 it will grow to half a trillion pounds.

To address the debt, the repayment period of the student loan will be extended to 40 years and the repayment threshold will be lowered to £ 25,000. This will hit graduates hard, especially low-wage graduates, but save billions of treasury and taxpayers.

But the long-awaited financial reforms are also shifting from the idea of ​​a university as the best choice for all students and a return to Labor’s previous ambitions of getting 50% of 18-year-olds to university.

The new consultation on the minimum qualification requirements for a loan to enter a university has already been called an attack on social mobility and disadvantaged students. Under the proposals, students who do not receive a 4th grade GCSE in Mathematics and English, or two grades E at Level A, will be denied access to student credits and thus admission to the university. In 2021, less than 5,000 students entered universities without passing the GCSE in English and Mathematics.

In a briefing for the media, Minister of Higher and Further Education Michel Danelan insisted that this is not a “defined” direction of travel: “But I believe we are considering it as an option. Previously, this country had entry requirements for two E’s, ”she said.

“We all know that there are young people who get three E’s every year who feel compelled and pushed to go to university before they are ready, and I think it does them a disservice.”

The government will also seek to use its reforms to crack down on what they describe as “low-cost” courses that they say burden students with debt, while doing little to increase their salaries – and, most importantly, their ability to pay. loans. The government seeks to ensure that students study those degrees that guarantee graduates ’salaries.

There is also a new consultation seeking opinions on a lifelong loan for people who can flexibly retrain at any point in their lives, for the equivalent of £ 37,000, or four years of education after 18 years. According to one insider sector, this could be “the most significant education reform of the 2020s to date”, although it could well end up being significantly diluted.

While the headlines will focus on changes in loan payments and minimum admission requirements, government reforms also include exciting plans to reduce the cost of foundation year courses and a new national state scholarship to support high-achieving students from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue higher education. further education and apprenticeship.

“Overall, people who hate the government will argue that today’s package supports students, alumni and universities,” said Nick Hillman, director of the Institute for Higher Education Policy and a key government adviser when the current loan system was established. “Meanwhile, those who love power will argue that this is a bold reform. In fact, it is a fairly well-balanced package that gives strong signals about the government’s priorities. “

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