The future of Higher Education funding

Today’s meeting of the BES Education Policy Lunchbox focused on issues arising from expected changes to the current university fees regime. Bahram Bekhradnia, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) provided an overview of the likely consequences of proposals to cut university funding, in anticipation of the release of the Browne Report. The Higher Education Policy Institute is the UK’s only independent think tank devoted exclusively to higher education. HEPI provides robust and objective policy analysis and advice across a whole range of higher education issues. Its mission is to improve higher education in the UK by creating a better informed policy environment – informed by research and analysis, as well as drawing on experiences from other countries.

The speaker suggested that HEFCE funding for research and laboratory work would remain a high priority for government expenditure, with the bulk of cuts aimed at the teaching sector. He also speculated that other proposals could include the introduction of an interest rate on payments for government-funded student loans. Questions were then raised in reference to earlier claims that the current cap on tuition fees charged by universities could be lifted completely. It was considered that in this case, many UK universities would face inevitable declines in home and overseas student recruitment rates, as the quality of teaching and the overall student experience would be compromised.

Finally it was noted that the scale of the expected cuts is likely to have an ‘unprecedented’ effect on higher education participation, in comparison to the highly publicised increases in tuition fees more recently. Whilst recent reviews by HEPI show that higher education participation, particularly by students of the most disadvantaged social classes and have been improving rapidly, these proposals are likely to jeopardize this trend. Full details of the proposals to the government on higher education funding will be available when the Browne Report is released this Tuesday (11th October).