- Video report by ITV News National Editor Allegra Stratton
Interviewees: Robert Van De Noort, Vice chancellor, University of Reading
University tuition fees should be cut from £9,250 to £7,500 per year to give students better value for money, an independent education review has recommended.
The Post-18 Education and Funding review, led by Philip Augar, also recommended the reintroduction of maintenance grants to less well-off students.
Overall sector income could then be protected by an increased contribution by the government to teaching costs.
In a wide-ranging look at England and Wales' higher education system, the panel found student loans are not well understood by pupils, and that the name of the system should be changed to the Student Contribution System.
It said the system should be overhauled to reduce in-study interest charges but to increase the proportion of loans that is eventually repaid.
The report also suggested the repayment period of student loans should be increased from 30 to 40 years - meaning graduates will end up paying more over time.
Proposals for disadvantaged students include the reintroduction of maintenance grants of at least £3,000 a year, which was scrapped by the Conservative government in 2016.
The recommendations have been advised to come into force for 2021/22 and would not be applied retrospectively.
This means students in higher education now would not be effected by the proposed recommendations if there were applied.
- ITV News National Editor Allegra Stratton provides an analysis of the review
So what are the main recommendations?
- Cap tuition fees at £7,500 a year
- Fee cap should be frozen until 2022/23, then increased in line with inflation from 2023/24
- Reintroduce maintenance grants for poorest students to at least £3,000 a year
- Change the name of student loans to "student contribution system"
- Withdraw financial support for foundation years attached to degree courses after an "appropriate notice period"
- Lower the repayment threshold where people start paying back student loans from £25,725 - meaning graduates will contribute more back each year
- Loans should be wiped after 40 years instead of 30 years
- Remove in-study interest, so that loan balances track inflation during study
Prime Minister Theresa May spoke about the recommendations in a speech on Thursday.
She said: “I was not surprised to see the panel argue for the reintroduction of means-tested maintenance grants both for university students and those studying for higher technical qualifications.
“Such a move would ensure students are supported whichever route they choose, and save those from the poorest backgrounds over £9,000.
“It will be up to the Government to decide, at the upcoming Spending Review, whether to follow this recommendation.
“But my view is very clear: removing maintenance grants from the least well-off students has not worked, and I believe it is time to bring them back.”
The President of Southampton University Student Union, Steve Gore, agrees.
Mrs May also called for reform to tuition fees to ensure value for money for students and the taxpayer.
She said that while the majority of courses provide good outcomes for students, this is no longer true across the board, and many courses do not cost £9,000 per student per year to teach.
However with a change of Conservative leader expected within weeks, there is no guarantee the recommendations will be followed.
Despite the Government boosting education or training places for every 16 to 19-year old, rolling out T Levels, and creating high-quality apprenticeships, the Prime Minister said more must be done for the 50% of young people who do not go to university.
Dr Augar, chairman of the panel, said: “Our work revealed that post-18 education in England is a story of both care and neglect, depending on whether students are amongst the 50% of young people who participate in higher education or the rest.
“The panel believes that this disparity simply has to be addressed.”
"For too long, we've had a system that works for half the population whilst neglecting the other half," said David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges.
A total of 53 recommendations for Government cover the 50% of young people who do not attend higher education, as well as the 50% who do.
Tuition fees in England were trebled in 2012, and the vast majority of courses now cost the maximum, £9,250 per year.
According to estimates by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the average student can now leave university owing more than £50,000.
But the panel is recommending the cap on the fee chargeable should be reduced to £7,500 per year, and could be introduced by 2021/22.
Responding to the review, the Fair Access Coalition said: “A lot of progress has been made in widening access to higher education, but we need to be careful that these gains are not sent into reverse.
“There is a lot to be welcomed in the Augar recommendations.
“An increase in maintenance support, more support for part-time degrees, greater flexibility to gain a degree through bitesize courses, a funding boost for further education, are all welcome steps.
“But they will do nothing to improve social mobility overall if the funding for widening participation activity is cut.”