Lord Browne proposes ‘Free Market’ for university fees

The eagerly awaited Browne Review – ‘an independent review on higher education funding and student finance’ – was released this morning. Browne’s boldest proposal suggests that the current tuition fee ‘cap’ should be lifted, with universities allowed to charge up to £12,000 per year for a degree course. Although, universities charging more than £6,000 per year would lose a proportion of this fee to offset the cost of government lending on student loans, which is also set to rise. Lord Browne assured that students would still not be expected to pay upfront fees and that the current student loan repayment threshold of ‘earnings of over £15,000 per year’ would be raised to £21,000 per year. However, the interest rate on borrowing for student loans could increase up to 2.2% -plus inflation- under these proposals, which some worry will leave ‘middle-income’ families worst affected. Under this new system, the poorest students would recieve an additional £3,250 of loans.

The review could stir up tensions in the new government, with coalition backbenchers likely to rebel against the ‘direct reversal’ of personal pledges made by several Liberal Democrat MPs during the election. The National Union of Students has been quick to respond to this morning’s announcements, with NUS president Aaron Porter commenting that “”If adopted, Lord Browne’s review would hand universities a blank cheque and force the next generation to pick up the tab for devastating cuts to higher education. The only thing students and their families would stand to gain from higher fees would be higher debts.”

Other proposals in the review include the merging of higher education funding bodies and watchdogs into a single “Higher Education Council” and calls for a 10% increase in the number of places on university courses over 3 years. Degree quality could also improve, as Browne suggests that university lecturers should be required to hold teaching qualifications.