As the recession begins to hit public spending, could student funding be the next item on the treasury’s chopping block?
The Confederation of British Industry has been slammed by student groups after publishing a report which suggested that a rise in tuition fees and a decrease in student loan subsidy would be “inevitable”. NUS President Wes Streeting declared that the authors of the report were “living on a different planet” as the CBI Director General, Richard Lambert, argued that cuts were coming: “The area where we should look for savings is in student support, which is relatively generous by international standards”.
The CBI argued that loans should be subject to more means testing and tuition fees be raised above the current levels of £3,225 per year for British students and £1,285 in Wales. English tuition fees could rise to around £5,000 per year, while Scottish students continue to pay no tuition fees. The report included a call to drop the government’s hope of seeing 50% of young people in university – an ambition which, some have argued, was merely an attempt to reduce numbers on unemployment rosters.
Streeting stated that the report was unsurprising, considering the fact that the group included “a bunch of the country’s richest business leaders and university vice-chancellors”. The Russell Group, an organisation which counts Nottingham University among its members, has backed the CBI proposals.
The UK’s spending on financial aid for students is higher than the average among developed nations (at around 26% compared to an average of 17.3%), while government funding for higher education itself is below average. The CBI has argued that with budget cuts inevitable, increasing fees and decreasing financial support is preferable to cutting the overall number of students or slashing teaching budgets.
The government isn’t set to finish a review of higher education funding until after the general election. While current students will not be hit by any change in tuition fees, the report has certainly shown that university life is not recession proof, and asks whether the priority of higher education is to be excellent or inclusive, if it cannot be both.