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Targeted Tuition Fees: Is means-testing the answer?

  • 20 September 2018

The UK’s Higher Education Policy Institute and Canada’s Higher Education Strategy Associates are jointly publishing a new research paper on charging people from poorer backgrounds less for higher education. Targeted Tuition Fees: Is means-testing the answer? by Alex Usher and Robert Burroughs is being simultaneously published in the UK and Canada.

The report considers the spread of means-tested tuition fees across five continents. It compares the different Targeted Free Tuition programmes in place and analyses the policy decisions behind them. The case studies include Canada, Chile, Italy, Japan, South Africa and the United States, as well as the original UK scheme in place from 1998/99 to 2005/06.

Alex Usher, the President of Higher Education Strategy Associates and the co-author of the report, said:

This is arguably the most important new idea in international higher education finance and it is spreading across the globe.

Free or lower-cost education for those from poorer backgrounds balances the need for well-funded universities against the fact that some people are more debt averse.

Targeted free tuition has some big advantages over both systems with no fees and systems with high fees for all. That is why so many different jurisdictions are independently converging upon it. It is time for a more systematic look at the concept.

The Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, Nick Hillman, contributed a Foreword to the report. He said:

This idea is very timely for the UK, particularly England, for three reasons. First, the Government is reviewing the funding of all post-18 education while the Opposition wants to row back on the spread of tuition fees. Secondly, everyone wants to see more students from poorer backgrounds. Thirdly, the Office for National Statistics may start counting the part of student loans that are never repaid as current public spending – if that happens, we may as well reduce the headline fee for some students and pay cash direct to universities without pretending it is a loan.

However, we need to assess the whole concept in the round because means-tested tuition fees satisfy some objectives better than others. In particular, they fly in the face of the idea that the amount you should contribute towards your own higher education should be based on how rich you are afterwards rather than how poor you were beforehand.

It is a generation since the concept of means-tested tuition fees was properly debated here. So we are delighted to be bringing the international debate about Targeted Free Tuition back to the UK.

  1. Higher Education Strategy Associates is a Toronto-based research firm providing strategic insight and guidance to governments, post-secondary institutions, and agencies through excellence and expertise in policy analysis, monitoring and evaluation, and strategic consulting services. Through these activities, it strives to improve the quality, efficacy, and fairness of higher education systems in Canada and worldwide.
  2. The Higher Education Policy Institute was established in 2002 to shape the higher education policy debate through evidence. It is the United Kingdom’s only independent think tank devoted to higher education. HEPI is a non-partisan charity funded in part by organisations and universities that wish to see a vibrant higher education debate.

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