The Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance led by
Lord Browne has come at a critical time. Demand for university places is exceptionally
high, while universities face a very uncertain future in terms of their funding. And
while it is acknowledged that the reforms introduced as a result of the 2004 legislation
have been broadly positive overall, there remains much work to be done in addressing
flaws in the current student finance system, and ensuring that we have a funding
framework which is durable for the future and fairer for all students.
Universities serve the needs of students, the economy, and wider society. They are
net contributors to the economy, deliver the skills and knowledge needed for future
economic success, and also generate substantial public benefits. In all of these
spheres, requirements and expectations are changing rapidly. Universities have shown
themselves to be adaptable and responsive to increasing demands in the past, but
sustainable funding is necessary in order to ensure this is the case in the future.
Universities operate within a complex ecosystem of regulation and accountability,
working with a large number of stakeholders, and exercising a high degree of
autonomy in their governance and management. They receive state funding, but
also operate under competitive pressure – more so now than ever before. These
features make the university sector one of the UK’s greatest assets, delivering
world-leading education for students both here and abroad. This is why we do not
propose wholesale restructuring of the higher education sector in our submission –
but rather, suggest that evolution of the current system through a rolling programme
of reform is what is required.
The proposals we make in this submission seek to preserve and enhance what is
best about the current funding system for higher education and student finance, while
addressing some of its most serious problems. We aim to describe a system which
is sustainable, accountable, and which can provide effectively for the future needs
of successive generations of students.
Our proposals for reform, and discussion of the issues and options, are grouped into
the following areas: general proposals; the graduate contribution framework; student
finance; public funding; and managing student numbers. Where we believe the
evidence is decisive, we have set out clear proposals. Where the arguments are less
clear-cut, we have set out a discussion of the issues and possible policy options,
highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the potential choices available. We have
also indicated the areas where we believe further analysis and evidence is required
before any firm policy recommendations can be made.