London Higher response to the Augar Review on post-18 education and funding


London Higher Response to the Augar Review: Independent Panel Report to the Review of Post-18 Review Education and Funding

London Higher is the membership body representing over 40 higher education (HE) institutions in London.  Our members range from some of the UK’s largest multi-faculty institutions to specialist institutions.

We welcome the publication of the review and several of the proposals including opportunities for flexible learning, call to reinstate maintenance grants, supporting disadvantaged students and strengthening the further education (FE) network.

However there are particular points we should like to make with regards to the HE sector in London and set out some, in no particular order, below:

First, as many other commentators have said, if there is to be a reduction in tuition fees, then the Government should make a firm commitment to balance any funding shortfall.  This commitment needs to cover all subject areas, including social sciences, humanities and creative arts, as well as to ensure that high-cost subjects such as medicine and other health subjects are fully funded. With respect to the latter, there are currently worrying shortages in the healthcare workforce. The NHS Long Term Plan details shortages across a wide range of NHS staff groups, including nurses, doctors (including GPs and psychiatrists) and paramedics, and calls for the expansion of course provision to help tackle this. Shortages in London are particularly acute – the capital had 30,180 vacancies for nursing and midwifery positions in 2017/18. If expansion in course provision is to be undertaken then this needs to be properly resourced.

We are pleased to see the recommendation to discard area-based measures for HE participation, and the recommendation to consider a move to more individual measures such as Free School Meals or household income.  It has been known for a long time that area-based measures are an inadequate method for assessing access and participation in London. Despite over 40% of children living in poverty in London only 13 of the 615 wards in the capital are designated as ‘low participation’ target areas by the Office for Students.

The report rightly recognises that some careers may have low salary earnings but be of high social value.  The relationship between student’s choice of a subject and potential earnings in a desired career is not a simplistic one.  For example, two areas of strength in London are the creative and performing arts (44,300 students) and healthcare subjects (43,600 students).  Graduates from creative arts have some of the lowest earnings, yet the data does not take into account the portfolio careers and the high levels of self-employment in this sector.  It is also relevant to note that 998,000 people work in the creative industries in London, which is a third of the total national workforce.

Furthermore, if the threshold for tuition fee repayments is reduced then lower-earning graduates, including for instance newly qualified nurses, will be required to pay back higher amounts towards their loan debt than they do at present. We have concerns that this could act as a disincentive for those considering nursing, particularly mature students. Recruitment to some healthcare courses is already struggling following the shift from a bursary-based system to a loan-based system in 2017. The Interim NHS People Plan outlines a 31% decrease in applications to nursing and midwifery courses between 2016 and 2018. Meanwhile London Higher research found that within London applications to nursing and midwifery programmes from mature students fell by 44% during 2015-2018.

We suggest caution regarding any possible overall re-branding of the higher education finance system as a ‘student contribution system’. Research undertaken by the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON), (a division of London Higher), in collaboration with Universities UK, has shown that potential students are particularly skeptical about such re-branding attempts. The proposed redefinition would also require significant and ongoing investment to ensure all students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are able to navigate the new system.  At present rates of progress, the percentage of learners from Free School Meal backgrounds entering HE in London will reach 73% by 2030, which will be 30% more than the next highest region.

It should also be noted that whilst the suggested reduction in the maximum amount HE providers can charge, £7,500 per year, would be welcome from a student perspective, the Panel’s own analysis shows England would have the third highest tuition fees amongst comparator countries.

We very much welcome the recommendation to investigate the costs of student accommodation.  Purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) is necessary to reduce pressure on local authority housing stock, and projections by the Greater London Authority indicate PBSA needs to double in the next 25 years to meet student demand with 3,500 bed spaces required annually.  At London Higher we are already working with the GLA, London boroughs, HE partners and developers on an affordability policy which aims to provide sufficient numbers of rooms at affordable rents in new student developments.

Looking forward it seems unlikely that, given the current climate in and around Government and the political parties, the Augar recommendations will be adopted in full.  The report itself also acknowledges that ‘more research’ is required on various issues. We would encourage a full consultation so that all views, including those from London institutions which have specific issues, can be heard and shared.

What does seem likely is that however any policy decisions resulting from the Augar review are cut, the resource going into higher education could fall, with potentially detrimental impact for institutions, their staff, students, local communities and stakeholders.  At this point in time the HE sector in London and the UK is without doubt world leading and makes significant economic, social and wider contributions locally, regionally and nationally. This is not a given, however, and the HE sector as a whole including organisations such as London Higher will need to work very hard to see this maintained for future generations.

For further information please contact Amy Lightstone, Head of Communications and Business Strategy (Amy.Lightstone@londonhigher.ac.uk).