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Response to the higher education green paper

  • 7 January 2016
  • By Graham Gibbs, Bahram Bekhradnia, Roger King, Gary Attle, Roxanne Stockwell and Emma Sims (edited by Nick Hillman)
  • HEPI number 81

The echoes of the past in the higher education green paper appear accidental and do not reflect much institutional memory.

So HEPI has chosen to respond to the proposals by asking experienced people with deep roots in the higher education sector to reflect on them. The authors are:

  • Graham Gibbs on teaching;
  • Bahram Bekhradnia on research;
  • Roger King on regulation;
  • Gary Attle on consumerisation;
  • Roxanne Stockwell on new providers; and
  • Emma Sims on students’ unions.

It is time for a new legal framework for higher education, but we need to ensure it improves the quality of the sector rather than inadvertently harming it, and the authors’ proposals are aimed at ensuring that happens.

1 comment

  1. John Thompson says:

    Gary Attle’s piece provides a context for the ‘consumer power’ proposals in the green paper, but it misses the most important change to the deal on offer to undergraduate students, a change not mentioned in the green paper, but introduced by the same Government, at more or less the same time. I refer to the retrospective change to the loan terms to the disadvantage of current borrowers. The cost of higher education to the individual student can depend on three things: the fee, the student’s earnings after leaving university, and the loan terms. For many, the size of the fee is irrelevant; they can expect to pay no more for a £9000pa course than for a £6000pa course. Or rather, students were led to believe that this was the case, now this is far from certain. Borrowers don’t know what they’ll have to pay, even after making assumptions about their future earnings.

    When students starting in 2012 took out a loan, they signed a contract which included,

    “I confirm I have read and understood ‘Student loans: A guide to terms and conditions’ available online at http://www.direct.gov.uk/studentfinance.”

    If they found that online document and reached page 8 they would find the following,

    “You must agree to repay your loan in line with the regulations that apply at the time the repayments are due and as they are amended. The regulations may be replaced by later regulations.”

    In other words, future governments can do what they like. Such draconian conditions are quite usual with government contracts. For example, if you look into the National Savings small print nothing is guaranteed. Still, almost all advisors still consider the NS&I to be the safest place to put your money. The working assumption is that such get out clauses would only be used in extremis. And in 2012 nobody thought that those first students with £9000 fees would find that the loan terms would change to their disadvantage. That working assumption has now proved to be false. For the time being the repayment and maximum threshold levels have been frozen, in future anything goes.

    Yet we still hear the same reassurances. Lord Willetts, for example, repeats the line that borrowers will only have to repay at 9 per cent of their income over £21,000pa. How does he know that? He doesn’t.

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