In this policy statement we examine the impact of major changes to the higher education (HE) funding system in England to be implemented from September 2012, including increases in university fees.
In September 2012, the government’s university teaching grant was cut in England. Some grants remain for higher-cost subjects and certain strategic and vulnerable subjects, including engineering. To cover this, the maximum annual tuition fee that universities can charge will rise to £9,000, with caveats regarding bursaries.
Fees will be due on entry to university, although most students will fund these through a government-underwritten student loan. Loans will be repaid from post-graduation earnings at a set rate of 9% of earnings over £21,000.
Many universities will charge £9,000, or close to it, for some or all of their degrees, despite the government originally “insisting that the £9,000 fee would be exceptional”. The view seems to be that charging significantly less than the maximum allowable fee sends out negative signals about quality.
In the policy statement, we express concerns that the nature and scale of the changes being implemented could:
- Reduce the number of students applying for engineering undergraduate courses in England, at a time when we need to encourage more applications
- Reduce the proportion of undergraduate engineers pursuing the entry-standard MEng degree
- Reduce the proportion of disadvantaged students studying engineering
- The Government should link its HE policy to its plans for economic growth, through varied student contributions to tuition fees in defined categories that recognise relative economic return and long term value to the economy.
- The Government should introduce a system to write off student debt progressively for students with degrees in strategically important and vulnerable subjects, and who achieve agreed professional qualifications in a related occupation.
- The forthcoming all-age career service should be specifically tasked to identify and address the concerns that less-advantaged school-leavers have about university study.
- The government should underwrite university engineering departments for a period of three years to ensure continuity of provision while a potentially turbulent situation beds down.