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Students are unconvinced by Augar’s proposals to reduce tuition fees to £7,500 but support bringing back maintenance grants

  • 10 October 2019
  • By Rachel Hewitt

The Higher Education Policy Institute has published new research on students’ views of the higher education funding system, At what cost? Students’ views on Augar, funding and the cost of living (HEPI Policy Note 17).

The survey of over 1,000 full-time undergraduate students, undertaken for HEPI by the polling company YouthSight, shows:

  • Students’ views are mixed between the current tuition fee model and Augar’s recommendation to lower fees: 40% prefer the current system of £9,250 paid back over 30 years; 41% prefer Augar’s approach of £7,500 paid off over 40 years; and 18% have no preference between the two.
  • The majority of students (79%) say the level of interest charged is one of the most important aspects of the funding system, compared to only 11% who say it is unimportant and 10% who are unsure.
  • Students are supportive of Augar’s recommendation to bring back maintenance grants, with 53% of students advocating for a mixed system of maintenance grants and loans and 32% saying they would prefer grants only. Only 16% support the current maintenance system in England, which is loan only. 
  • Cost of living is a higher priority for students than tuition fees, with 59% saying it is their top funding concern. For 18% tuition fees are a more pressing issue, and 23% place them equally.
  • Over half (52%) of students’ parents contribute to their living costs, while 46% of students’ parents do not. 
  • Of the students whose parents contribute towards their living costs, half (50%) receive more than £1,000 every year, 29% of students receive between £500 and £1,000 and 21% receive less than £500. 
  • Many students see living away from home as critical to their university experience, with around half (49%) saying they would still choose to live away from home even if this came at a greater cost, compared to 38% who say they would choose to live at home to save money. 13% are undecided. 
  • Over half (57%) of students say living away from home was important to them when they applied to university, compared to 28% who said it was unimportant and 15% who are indifferent.

Rachel Hewitt, HEPI’s Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:

Many believe that in the current political environment the eagerly anticipated Augar review is dead in the water. The current minority Government lacks both the political sway and desire to implement the report’s recommendations. Our polling shows students are also split in their views on whether Augar should be implemented. They find the recommendation of lowering fees to £7,500 is no more appealing than the current system. Instead students’ main priority is the money available for living costs and ensuring the system operates fairly by reintroducing maintenance grants for the poorest students.

With an election potentially around the corner, politicians should take heed of students’ priorities. A winning offer to students may not involve focusing on tuition fees but instead on less headline-grabbing aspects, such as the maintenance system and interest rates.

Notes for Editors

  1. Wave 7 of the HEPI/YouthSight Monitor was answered by 1,078 full-time undergraduate students and undertaken between the 16 August and the 20 August 2019. Weights have been used to ensure the sample is representative by age, gender and university type. The margin of error is +/- 3.09%, based on a 95% confidence level.
  2. Respondents received a £1 Bonus Bond gift voucher for answering these questions and others on a different topic.
  3. The full results, including for questions not covered in this press release, are available in a spreadsheet from HEPI.
  4. HEPI’s original response to the Augar report is here.
  5. 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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