Sir Philip Augar’s assessment of post-18 training in England was commissioned by Theresa Might in 2018, after the then prime minister was spooked by the recognition of Jeremy Corbyn’s election pledge to abolish pupil tuition charges. 4 years later, the federal government’s response is lastly in. However the reforms it unveiled final week are primarily about saving the Treasury cash, reasonably than college students. They’re additionally shamelessly, and calculatedly, regressive.
Though it talks a superb recreation on grownup and additional training, the federal government’s coverage precedence has at all times been to slash the quantity of college graduate debt that’s by no means paid again – and for which the Treasury is on the hook. It has thus prolonged from 30 to 40 years the interval through which mortgage repayments have to be made, and considerably lowered the wage threshold at which cash begins to be paid again. The variety of graduates required to pay again their mortgage in full is anticipated to rise from below 1 / 4 to greater than half.
In partial compensation, excessive rates of interest levied on loans will likely be minimize. However this transfer will overwhelmingly profit high-earning graduates. The Institute for Fiscal Research has estimated that, total, the modifications will save the Treasury £2.3bn for every college cohort. That is cash that will likely be coming from graduates on extraordinarily modest salaries who have already got home costs and meagre pensions to fret about.
The regressive method is compounded by the federal government’s obvious aspiration to reintroduce minimal GCSE and A-level entry necessities for college – a transfer that will additional entrench social inequalities in instructional attainment. An ominous session has additionally been launched on the right way to cope with “poor-quality” programs that fail to ship well-paid graduate jobs. This appears like a backdoor path to reintroducing caps on pupil numbers in some areas, in addition to a licence for philistine judgments on what constitutes the “worth” of college studying. The freezing of tuition charges till 2025 will result in a hefty real-terms minimize in universities’ earnings and hit educating assets. That can additional depress employees morale on campuses, the place many lecturers have simply accomplished one other spherical of strike motion over pensions and dealing circumstances.
All of it quantities to a stealthy and painful Whitehall squeeze on the upper training sector: the web impact of the monetary reforms will likely be to make the prospect of a college training appreciably much less enticing to some, and extra of a perceived gamble.
That is the intention. The federal government needs fewer younger folks to do levels and extra to think about additional training faculties, apprenticeships and vocational coaching as viable alternate options. The Augar assessment itself referred to as for a rebalancing of this type. However however the welcome proposal of a lifelong mortgage entitlement for non-graduates from 2025, nothing like sufficient cash is being spent to reverse the affect of a decade of savage cuts to the additional training sector. As an alternative, the federal government is taking the dismal however cheaper possibility of upping disincentives to take the tutorial route. Because the monetary battle of attrition on our universities continues, the one true winner from the federal government’s response to the Augar assessment is the Treasury.