The Browne Review

On Wednesday, the Lords will be discussing the Browne Review on the funding of higher education.  I shall be speaking.  I’m not exactly short of advice on the subject (or views of my own), but if readers have any particular views on the Review, feel free to comment.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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7 Responses to The Browne Review

  1. Jonathan says:

    I was against an increase in fees, but given that we aren’t going to go back to the time when only the most academically able went to university, it simply isn’t economically viable if students don’t pay their way.

    You can read my thoughts in full on my blog if you are really interested. To summarise, I think Lord Browne’s proposals are a clever compromise. The suggested system of repayment is in effect a graduate tax for most graduates, I’m surprised they haven’t tried to brand it as such. Many people will never repay the full cost of their course, and payments are a fixed proportion of income irrespective of interest rates. We have to stop thinking of it as a “crippling debt” as it bears little resemblance to a loan or mortgage.

    I’m also pleased that there is almost no means testing proposed in the Browne Review. All students can benefit from a degree equally; their parents’ income need not come into it. If the graduate doesn’t find a well-paid job, they won’t have to pay back much of their tuition costs.

    What the Government mustn’t do is pick and choose parts of the Review. It’s been carefully thought out to be fair and balanced. Too many decisions are being rushed through at the moment without enough thought going into them. The review panel have carefully thought this out, so the Government should not be allowed to make a botch job out of it.

    We’ve already seen them say fees won’t be uncapped in the way Browne suggested. The trouble is, we’ve been here before and it doesn’t work. With the budget cuts, universities need to charge between £6000 and £7000 per student. If there is a cap, it’ll simply result in all institutions charging the maximum, just as was the case for “top-up” fees. If Browne’s “soft cap” were implemented, some institutions would charge more, but I believe others would charge less as a result as it would no longer be seen as a sign of an inferior-quality institution if they were below the limit were there no maximum. So what if Oxbridge charge more? If the graduate benefits fully and finds a very well-paid job, they’ll pay back more through the effective graduate tax. If they don’t, they’ll only pay back the same over 30 years that anyone else in the same situation would. An absence of a hard cap need not put anyone off going to any university.

  2. Croft says:

    Jonathan: I think the issue of caped/uncapped may not primarily be a intellectual division but a political one. The original legislation creating fees allows for a vote to raise the threshold of the fees, to abolish the limit altogether would require primary legislation. That said many ‘SDP’ tradition LDs (both the MPs and a significant number of their members who are in the education sector) are fairly openly anti-market so setting a cap deliberately at a level where the best and worst universities will change the same fees (6-7K) for the reasons you suggest will (somewhat) appease them. Personally I think we will have a higher limit (~9k) but not sufficiently high to really make a proper market work or really allow our best to compete internationally. Of course what might be really interesting would be if Oxbridge threatened to leave the state sector completely – legally they couldn’t be stopped and it would necessarily precipitate the market as the government would have to try to stem others following.

    • Jonathan says:

      Croft, I realise it’s politically motivated, but then I think the country would be all the better if it was governed by intellectuals rather than politicians!

      The top universities leaving the state sector would be a disaster as students would, presumably, not be eligible for the support package, and that would be a huge barrier to many people. All the more reason for allowing them to charge more within the state system.

  3. Croft says:

    “The top universities leaving the state sector would be a disaster as students would, presumably, not be eligible for the support package,”

    Support grants could be given to non state unis if the government desired. However I don’t think OxB would actually leave – merely that the threat would force the government to uncap fees to keep them in the state system.

  4. ladytizzy says:

    Jonathan, Croft – this link might shed some light:

    There was a not dissimilar to-do at Oxford after Congregation refused to give Mrs Thatcher her honorary gong, leading the University to take the first steps at rowing back from gvt funding.

    A few preliminary questions on the Browne report:

    Should I assume that those who fail and/or complete less than 100% of their studies (for whatever reason) will not be indebted?

    Will the bands of repayment be changed in line with inflation, in line with the average wage, or be set by a focus group?

    Why is it fair to penalise those who (for whatever reason) repay quickly?

    Will an English graduate employee of a British Embassy be required to pay?

    • Croft says:

      I can help slightly there, UK embassy staff, the military and so on are taxed as UK residents so they would pay.

      As to repayments – no doubt they will be set at the level most likely to be politically useful and to buy off a LD revolt.

  5. says:

    Our esteemed government seem to rule out a system of taxation, but would call for this as I did stand for parliament with this as a policy against the wishes of the Labour Party. It seems to me this is the most “progressive” policy which I believe the Labour Party will eventually adopt on the grounds that this is the majority consensus amongst the parties middle ranking members.
    It seems to me there are two issues with the education system, firstly, key stage 3 and further education is not providing the vocational and academic routs required for the vast majority of young people, if one was to look at the curriculum you would suspect that the only careers available are those as a bank clerk or a middle manager. This leaves a huge skills gap and sends huge numbers of young people into HE, when maybe there should have been another route provided by the state.
    The second issue is, what the student receives from the institution, for example, if one is paying £7,000 a year, I would expect 24 hour access to the library, multiple copies of texts in the library, enhanced IT equipment, more journals online and more teaching hours (Can I hear the gulps from floor 2 of Wilberforce?) I would also expect the institution to give careful consideration to how the money is spent elsewhere, for example I have noticed several very expensive looking TVs appearing in places around the campus that seem to be doing nothing, I don’t want to pay 7k and see the VC driving a Ferrari to work!
    Coming from a family of academics, someone is always on the verge of running out of money for their post but can’t help but feel I am getting value for money from my degree!

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