The Student Funding Panel published its final recommendations today on how the student funding system in England could be improved.
The independent panel – established last year by Universities UK – was set up to analyse the impact of the reforms to funding for undergraduate students in England introduced in 2012–13, identify any major issues, and assess the options for reforming the system in the future.
One of the panel's recommendations is to improve the level of financial support for students’ living costs. Evidence collected by the panel from students suggests that they are more concerned about the level of maintenance support they receive while studying than they are about the long-term debt arising from the increase in student loans.
The panel looked also at whether the current system is financially sustainable to government and reviewed the range of options put forward to address this issue. While the panel felt that recent debates about the student funding system had focused excessively on the long term costs to government – and that this was not always helpful – it agreed that it was important to look at the options for bringing down the costs in the future. Were changes to become necessary, the panel believed that freezing the student loans repayment threshold in the current system for a specified period of time was most likely to achieve the best balance of outcomes for students, graduates, government and universities.
The panel's main conclusions and recommendations:
The current system of student funding in England is broadly fit for purpose, does not require wholesale reform, and needs to be given time to work
Prospective and current student understanding of the system needs to be improved, and the description and communication of the system need to be clarified and simplified
Some of the parameters in the student loan repayment system may need to be modified over the medium term. The panel recognised that all options for changing repayment parameters involve trade-offs and compromises. However, the panel believed that freezing the repayment threshold in the current system for a specified period of time was most likely to achieve the optimal balance of outcomes for students, graduates, government and universities
Funding for maintenance support needs to be improved: in terms both of quantity and targeting
Loan recovery mechanisms need to be improved
As part of its evidence gathering, the Student Funding Panel collected submissions from a range of organisations and individuals – including responses from over 3,000 students – and selected ‘witnesses’. This was used to inform the work of the panel and the development of this report.
Key findings from the student survey include:
There are high levels of satisfaction with universities' facilities for teaching and learning, as well as for various other resources and services
One in three respondents said they would accept a small annual increase in tuition fees if their university was faced with a reduction in available resources to sustain its activities
Living costs are a concern for the vast majority of students; respondents were more likely to be concerned about meeting their costs of living than tuition fees
Around two thirds say they are at least 'quite concerned' about their ability to repay their loan
80% are aware that their loan repayments will only commence once their earning exceed £21,000, although there is generally a lack of understanding about the finer details, such as interest rates on loans
Membership of the panel:
Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, Universities UK President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Surrey Will Hutton, Chair of the Independent Commission on Fees Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) Emran Mian, Director of the Social Market Foundation Mike Rowley, UK Head of Education, KPMG Professor David Latchman, Master of Birkbeck, University of London Professor Paul O’Prey, Vice-Chancellor, University of Roehampton Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell, Chair of the Universities UK’s Funding Policy Network and Vice-Chancellor, University of Bath Professor Janet Beer, Vice-Chancellor, University of LiverpoolSir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor, University of Reading Professor Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor, University of Exeter
The panel’s final report – Student Funding Panel – An analysis of the design, impact and options for reform of the student fees and loans system in England – is attached to this email. A detailed annexe with the full findings from the student survey and student focus groups will also be published on the UUK website on Monday, alongside the panel's main report. Please contact the UUK press office if you would be interested in accessing this separate annexe before Monday.
If you require any further information about the panel and its final report, or would like to arrange an interview with one of the panel members, please contact the Universities UK press office on pressoffice@UniversitiesUK.ac.uk or 020 7419 5407
The Student Funding Panel was established in 2014 by Universities UK to consider the design of the current student fees and loan system in England, and review its ability to deliver value for money for students, be financially sustainable for government and to allow universities to support high quality teaching and deliver an outstanding learning experience for students.
The panel’s aim was to provide a forum to build a broad political consensus for a stable and sustainable system of funding for the long term and to make recommendations on the student finance system in England up to, and immediately following, the General Election in May 2015.