Jeremy Till

Four facts about higher education policy

I am increasingly exasperated that none of the opposition parties (with the conspicuous exception of Caroline Lucas of the Green Party) is confronting the Coalition head on about their policies, but instead endlessly equivocate about the need for austerity. I think we need simple, unequivocal facts about the impact of the various policies. 

So here for starters are my four facts about the Coalition’s education policies. Taken together they expose the profoundly ideological basis of the White Paper. 

Fact 1: After tripling the cost to students, the cost of higher education to the taxpayer actually goes up.

The source for this is the letter from Vince Cable to HEFCE of 25th January 2012, the annex of which sets out that the cost rises from £8.9bn to £9.1bn. So far from the imposition of fees being part of the government’s wider “austerity” programme, it actually adds to government spending. 

Fact 2: Students going to private, for-profit, Universities will be eligible for taxpayer subsidised loans.

Up to now, students going to the few private Universities have not had access to the national student loan system. From now, they do. Because the overall size of the student loan “book” is fixed, this means that anyone getting a loan to go to a for-profit University is effectively reducing the numbers of students going to public universities. And because these loans do not start to be covered by repayments until 2047, they are underwritten by the taxpayer, a clear example of public money being used to cross-subsidise private gain. 

Fact 3: Student loans costs will not be matched by repayments until 2047, by which time total student debt will amount to £191bn

These figures are from BIS (Department of Business, Industry and Skills), who in a response to a Freedom of Information request state: “The current BIS estimate for the year when total full time student debt will cease to rise is 2047. At that point repayments by borrowers and cancellations due to death, permanent disability and write-offs after 30 years (2012/13 entrants onwards) will exceed new loan issues. The total debt at that time is expected to be around £191bn after adjusting for inflation and is presented in 2011 prices.” According to the Independent this is approximately a quarter of the entire national debt. And of course, with repayments not matching costs for over 35 years, the difference in the meantime has to be met by the taxpayer.

Fact 4: By allowing the elite Universities to expand, the less elite will have to shrink.

Slipped in to the White Paper at the last minute was a very nasty little detail that released extra places to Universities who recruit students with AAB grades at A-level. Up to now, Universities have had strict quotas on how many students they can take. This is now lifted for AAB students, but at the same time the total number of students accepted in 2012-13 is reduced by around 8%. The result will be an inevitable drift upwards to the elite Universities who attract these AAB students (who are disproportionately from private schools), and a contraction of the remainder of the sector, limiting the number of students from diverse and non-standard educational backgrounds).