From education to employment

Philip Augar review of Post-18 education and funding – Sector Response

The independent panel, led by Philip Augar, has today (30 May) published its findings and recommendations for the Government’s review of post-18 education and funding in England. 

The Augar Review has over 60 recommendations and covers all of HE and FE, both the 50 per cent of young people who do not attend higher education as well as the 50 per cent who do, with the aim of improving opportunity and providing the skills required in a fast-changing economy.

The panel recommends a lifelong learning loan allowance available in modules, an employer-focused suite of higher technical qualifications and free intermediate education for ‘second chance’ adults delivered through a strengthened FE college network.

The panel found that while there is much to admire in higher education, some students are charged too much for their degrees and the substantial taxpayer subsidy could be better directed. Proposals include a cut in tuition fees to £7500, with overall university sector income protected by an increased government contribution to teaching costs. That contribution should be aligned with the modern Industrial Strategy and directed to courses which cost more to deliver and offer better value to students and taxpayers.

The panel also believes that Student loans are not well understood, and therefore recommends that the system be explained better, including a new name – the Student Contribution System. The system should be overhauled to reduce in-study interest charges but to increase the proportion of loans that is eventually repaid.

The panel welcomes the increase in the number of students entering higher education from low-income families in recent years, but notes that much more still needs to be done. Proposals for disadvantaged students include the re-introduction of maintenance grants, an increase in resources to support them while studying and an Office for Students-led focus on the outcomes achieved by the large amount of fee income that universities are required to spend on widening participation.   

Dr Philip Augar, Chair of the Post-18 Education Review Panel, said:

The present government’s review is the first since the Robbins report in 1963 to consider further and higher education together. It is an opportunity to consider the roles both parts of the system should play in meeting the country’s social and economic needs, how they fit together, how they should be funded and whether they are delivering value for students and taxpayers.

“Our work revealed that post-18 education in England is a story of both care and neglect, depending on whether students are amongst the 50 per cent of young people who participate in higher education or the rest. The panel believes that this disparity simply has to be addressed. Doing so is a matter of fairness and equity and is likely to bring considerable social and economic benefits to individuals, employers and the country at large. It is our core message.

“Our proposals are designed to build on the considerable achievements of our universities – one of the UK’s world class industries – with a particular focus on the economy’s needs and improving value for money for students and taxpayers. We also seek to rebuild further education, for too long the Cinderella sector, and see technical and vocational education as a means of addressing the country’s skills gap.

 “We are firmly of the view that post-18 education should be a lifelong experience available to all, irrespective of age, situation or income. Our proposals are intended to create such a system.”

With the report now submitted, the Government, will consider the recommendations and conclude its overall review of post-18 education and funding initiated in February 2018 by the Prime Minister, Theresa May, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, and the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds. The review was intended to ensure a system that is accessible for all, provides value for money and works for students and taxpayers, incentivises choice and competition and encourages the development of the skills that we need as a country.

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The current Prime Minister, Theresa May has welcomed the findings of the independent review:

“By failing to equip more of our young people with the technical skills they will need to compete in the jobs of the future, we have hampered our national ability to compete on the world stage.

“So reinvigorating FE is vital if we are to help all our young people develop the skills they need to get on – and if we are to truly make a success of our modern industrial strategy.

“Making a success of FE is not just about increased funding – it’s about giving these young people a genuine choice about their education.

“So more also needs to be done to ensure that further and technical options are every bit as attractive a path for students as more academic options – including by reforming the sector so that colleges can thrive

“As the panel argues, this focus on academic routes at the expense of all others has left further education overlooked, undervalued and underfunded.”

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 Education Secretary Damian Hinds comments on the Post 18 Review findings:

Our world-class higher education system can transform lives and are a great contributor both to our industrial success, and to the cultural life of the nation. Higher education can be a great engine of social mobility, open up a world of opportunities and broaden horizons.

“This report acknowledges fully the key truth that our further education colleges also play a vital role in performing these functions. Too often we have had in our country a bias towards higher education, but we need to recognise equally the opportunities in both.

“Our current student finance system is a fair and progressive one, but it is right to look at it again, to ensure it continues to work for our whole society. There are very high quality courses across the full range of subjects, from creative arts to medicine – but there are also courses where value, in its widest sense, is not being delivered either to students or to taxpayers, who also make a sizeable contribution. We need to address this so everyone can be sure they’re getting the best standard.

“I am determined that every young person has the best opportunity to learn and succeed, regardless of their background or circumstance and this means improving not only the education on offer but access to it.

“I thank the panel for their work, which now gives the Government a lot to consider, and we will now carefully look at their recommendations before concluding the review.”

I went to a Further Education college so know just how vital they are. Different views being expressed on #AugarReview but we should all agree it’s right it emphasises Lifelong Learning and importance of FE. It was a huge priority for me as Business Sec and would be if I were PM

— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) May 30, 2019

So what is the Sector Response to the Philip Augar Post 18 Education and Funding Review?

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Responding to the publication of the Post-18 Education Review, David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges said:

 “Whoever becomes Prime Minister has a tough task ahead with widening skills gaps and stagnating social mobility. The recommendations in this report tackle both head on and should be a priority from day one in the job.

“For too long, we’ve had a system that works for half the population whilst neglecting the other half. We live in a country with 9 million adults with poor basic skills, even more lacking strong digital literacy, skills gaps widening particularly in intermediate skills, employers struggling to recruit in many roles and enormous demand for tech experts to help reap the benefits of digital transformation. Our education and training system is not delivering to meet these needs now, so changes and fairer investment are vital.

“We must not let this report be diminished to just a debate about tuition fees. It is more important than that. Universities are vitally important, but many people seem to need reminding that they are not the only part of the post-18 education and training system. In fact, more than half of the population have never been and never will go to university. Their education and life chances have been ignored for far too long.

“Few jobs will be unchanged from technology and very few people will be able to thrive without frequent opportunities to learn, train and pick up new skills. Focusing only on universities and tuition fees does not do justice to those challenges, nor recognise the opportunities we have as a country if we get this right.

 “The Post-18 Review report attempts to balance the needs, aspirations and opportunities for every adult and proposes meaningful changes across universities, colleges and skills which are vital to set the country up for the future – including welcome recognition for the vital role of further education colleges, a boost to intermediate level skills funding and new rights for all adults to be able to get the support they need to progress in learning.

 “We need a diverse and thriving post-18 education sector, led by universities and colleges, working closely with employers and communities. The post-18 review report helps us start building that system and supporting everyone throughout their lives.”

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Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute, said;

“Most will focus on tuition fees and higher education, but it is great to see this long-awaited report recognising the compelling economic and social case for better investment in further education.

“The drive to increase participation in higher education has paid dividends, but we are too focused on full-time undergraduate degrees for young people. The review is right that we need a clearer higher technical education route for learning throughout life.

“The number of adults improving their skills has halved over the last decade, nine million adults lack functional literacy or numeracy, and the number of young people gaining GCSE and A Level equivalent qualifications has stalled. We must urgently reverse this if we are to meet our post-Brexit skills needs. So the review’s recommendations, including providing funding for adults to get a first level 2 and level 3 qualification, are welcome. The introduction of loans for adults to learn at this level has led to a one third fall in learning, so better funding could really help adults stuck in low paid work to get the skills they need to progress.

“But the Government should be more ambitious. With productivity and social mobility having stalled, with rapidly advancing technology transforming the world of work, and with Brexit on the horizon, investing in lifelong learning has never been more important.

“Recent Learning and Work Institute research showed that progress in boosting the skill levels of our workforce has stalled, and we’re at risk of falling behind other countries in the 2020s. We called for an additional £1.5 billion investment to drive productivity and social mobility. The Augar Report has called for less than half that amount. It is a welcome start but the next Prime Minister should make a higher ambition a top priority.”

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Mark Dawe, Chief Executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) comments: 

“AELP welcomes the well researched and comprehensive report on post 18 education and training and its incredible clarity as to the issues this nation currently faces. There are many proposals that will help ensure the further education system is placed on a par with the higher education system and support the 50% that aren’t at University along with another significant proportion of individuals currently in HE but getting little or even negative return from their programme. 

“The report recognises the importance and value of good level 2 and level 3 provision, and the strong returns at these levels particularly through apprenticeships. Indeed in addition the proposed full funding for all individuals, no matter what age, for their first full level 2 and level 3 is incredibly important. The need for a strong well incentivised level 4 and level 5 provision through the further education system is a focus that is also sorely needed. The recommendation to have a lifelong learning allowance is welcome, as is creating greater transparency from the IfA and clarity in the regulatory system for apprenticeships, in particular giving Ofsted the sole responsibility for inspection for apprenticeships at all levels. The issues with apprenticeships take up in SMEs have been recognised which is welcome.  

“AELP is still concerned about the sustainability of level 6 and above apprenticeships given their great potential and the funding that will be required to support them. AELP hoped that this would have been considered, but clearly it was a step too far for the review. 

“It is to be expected that there is a bias towards the ‘public sector’ college infrastructure, but there needs to be careful consideration as to where the real returns come from at all levels – classroom and workshop based learning or work based education and training, where the report recognises ITPs have real strength. Getting the balance right between these types of education and training at all levels is vital for the future productivity and social mobility for employers and individuals alike.”

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The Federation of Awarding Bodies welcomed the publication of the post-18 Review, published by the independent panel chaired by Philip Augar.

Commenting on the report, Tom Bewick, chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB), said:

“We particularly welcome the acknowledgment in the report that the reduction of investment in 16-19-year olds and adult budgets has led to the collapse in learner participation levels at Levels 2 and 3. This has clearly affected social mobility for citizens and hampered improvements in workforce productivity. We therefore welcome the recommendation for a lifelong learning loan allowance for individuals to attain a qualification up to level 3, regardless of age. FAB called for this policy shift in our discussions with Philip Augar and other stakeholders; and we call upon the Treasury to make these funds available in the upcoming Spending Review.

 “We support the focus in the report on ensuring a progression ladder of opportunity at Levels 4 and 5, with a new funding settlement introduced for attracting more disadvantaged students into higher education.

 “The report makes a number of technical recommendations to improve the transparency of data collection and regulation of apprenticeships. We would support any efforts to improve transparency and put in place more measurable outcomes for the government’s skills reform programme in England.

“The Federation will publish a more detailed response to the Augar Review in due course.”

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Lady Cobham CBE, Director General of The 5% Club, responds:

“The 5% Club warmly welcomes the recommendations of the panel to improve further education and skills in the UK to meet impending employment needs and build a competitive economy. Almost every sector of the economy, as represented by The 5% Club, is concerned about meeting the looming skills gap to continue to be productive. At the moment, the quality of training is too often not available to meet the needs of British business.

“Our members, including employers large and small from a wide range of sectors, are committed to investing in ‘earn and learn’ skills training including apprenticeships and sponsored student schemes for their employees. But last year, almost half of them said they were unable to obtain suitable, high quality training for their employees where they needed it. So the review’s recommendation to invest in better, more accessible further education, in areas where the workforce needs it, is vital.

“We welcome the review’s recommendations for the Government to increase the number of quality apprenticeships, particularly in areas of employment where they are desperately needed. With non university level apprenticeship numbers remaining low and stagnant, it is vital to turn this around quickly and ensure that sufficient new and existing employees are being trained in the skills needed for vibrant construction, engineering and other key business sectors to support the UK Industrial Strategy. We welcome the proposals for funding for new apprentices who have not received other sources of higher or further education support before and to restore full funding for employees over 24 to undertake full level 2 qualifications.

“We also welcome the call to ensure an effective distribution of appropriate training within a reasonable  travel-to-learn radius, to skill people up where they are needed. Our members struggle to find suitable training in many parts of the country, especially rural areas. The Government needs to work with industry and the further education network to develop skills fit for 21st century employers, where business, communities and young people need it.

“The Government must ensure that the apprenticeship figures represent a true picture of real, quality apprenticeship development in this country, if it is to support UK PLC in addressing the skills gap. We support Augur review’s recommendations for the Government to more accurately account for the number of true apprenticeship programmes throughout the country and for all providers to meet Ofsted standards of quality.

“We also whole-heartedly welcome the recommendation to improve careers advice in colleges and schools. Earn and learn training needs to be presented as the valuable and worthwhile route into employment, so that it is held in as much esteem as a university education.”

“As the review recognises, further education is a key driver of social mobility. Investment in quality training and opportunities is vital in providing a diverse, effective workforce fit for the future.”

Responding to the funding review from Philip Augar, the University and College Union (UCU) said that the review had missed an opportunity to explore radical alternatives to the status quo and risked delivering an even worse version of the politically toxic system it was supposed to improve. The union’s submission to the Augar Review can be found here.

UCU head of policy and campaigns, Matt Waddup, said:

‘The prime minister called the Augar review because the current funding system was so politically toxic. Unfortunately, this review looks like a wasted opportunity to develop radical changes that would make a real difference for students and institutions.

‘From what we have seen, the recommended tuition fee changes look like the worst of all worlds. Institutions would have their hands tied on funding while students would still graduate with tens of thousands of pounds of debt that many will never fully pay off. It is crucially important that changes don’t leave institutions with less resource as that would be hugely damaging for students and staff.

‘Education is worth investing in and it is a real shame that this review passed up the opportunity to develop a system that ensures big business finally pay its fair share. A Business Education Tax, which reverses cuts to corporation tax, could allow fees to be scrapped while ensuring that big companies finally contribute properly towards the supply of graduates upon which they rely.

‘In further education, the review fails to deal properly with the glaring problem facing the sector – that is the chronic underinvestment it has suffered in recent years. Further education loans have had very low take-up and extending them further into lifelong learning is not the boost the sector needs.

‘The review’s proposals around rationalising the number of colleges are also concerning. The area reviews have at best had mixed success and the current fate of Stourbridge College is a stark reminder that mergers aren’t always in the interests of students.’

Universities UK had a very detailed response to the Augar review:

Responding to the publication of Theresa May’s review of post-18 education and funding, Universities UK (UUK) is calling on the government and next prime minister to consider fully the potential consequences of the recommendations for students and our world-class higher education sector.

Universities UK welcomes proposals to encourage more people to undertake post-18 qualifications to enhance their lives and employment prospects.

The review recommendations include some positive measures that UUK has been making a case for:

  • A focus on encouraging more flexible learning with improved opportunity to ensure the most diverse range of learners can benefit from higher and further education
  • Addressing concerns about living costs with maintenance grants targeted to help those students most in need
  • Capping the rate of interest students pay while they are still studying.

Universities UK highlight that if University fees are cut to £7,500, there is a considerable risk that the government will not make up the funding gap in full (around £1.8 billion a year) through teaching grant funding, which would be a bad deal for students.

Other recommendations and issues which concern Universities UK include:

  • The removal of loan funding for students on foundation years which is currently an important route for capable students from challenging or deprived backgrounds to make the step into higher education
  • The knock-on impact of changes for universities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • The inevitable confusion these proposals will cause for students, their families, schools and the higher education sector about what happens next and when
  • Potential restrictions on access and choice based on narrow conceptions of value
  • Whether the required replacement funding will be allocated in a way that allows universities to continue offering diversity and choice, or comes with strings attached
  • The likelihood of a more fragmented system for accessing funds for widening access and participation activities, which could impact social mobility
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Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

“On the face of it the fee-level recommendations may look good for students, but unless the government gives a cast-iron guarantee on full replacement funding, it could prove to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

“I recognise there are difficult choices to be made on public funding, but cutting fees without replacement funding would be a political choice which hurts students, limits opportunity, damages universities, decreases the number of highly-skilled employees that business needs, and reduces our international competitiveness at a time when modern Britain needs it most.

“There are very welcome proposals to encourage flexible learning, to provide maintenance grants for those students most in need and to cap interest on student loans.

“The next prime minister must look at the full package to consider the impact of these recommendations and consult properly with students, universities, colleges and business.”

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Professor Dame Janet Beer, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool said:

“Studying at university is a transformative experience that remains a good investment for graduates. Anyone with the will and potential to study at a UK university should have the opportunity to do so, whatever their background.

“These recommendations open up new avenues for more flexible study and lifelong learning, which employers and our economy need. But we need to ensure the government doesn’t close the door on student choice by cutting funding and restricting access to university.

“With around 300,000 new places needed at universities over the next decade as the 18-year-old population rises, it is more important than ever to ensure we maintain investment in our world-leading sector.

“Further discussion must now take place across the sector and government, including the devolved administrations. We will consult with our members on the feasibility and impact of the recommendations and ensure they benefit students, employers and communities across all four nations of the UK.”

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Dr Luke Heselwood, Senior Researcher at Reform said:

“Slashing tuition fees is a red herring and the taxpayer will ultimately pay the cost. It will not result in better quality courses, improved access for disadvantaged students or stop students leaving university with large levels of debt.

“Universities need to stop pushing poor-quality courses and start delivering value for the money students pay.”

Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said:

“Today’s report from the post-18 review panel led by Dr Philip Augar presents a detailed package of proposals to reform higher and further education funding. It will be up to the next Prime Minister and his or her Cabinet to determine the Government’s response. Three key principles should guide them:

First, the primary objective should be a sustainable funding settlement across higher and further education. Additional support for further education and lifelong learning is long overdue and the panel’s emphasis on boosting these routes is welcome. Equally, their report recognises the invaluable role universities play in our modern economy and is clear that any reduction in undergraduate tuition fees should be fully compensated. Otherwise university students will suffer as the funding available for their teaching, equipment and services such as careers support is diminished. Businesses will also struggle to recruit the graduates they need if investment is reduced and student places have to be restricted. The Government’s own Industrial Strategy predicts that 1.25 million additional graduates will be needed by 2024.

“It is imperative the next Prime Minister provides students, businesses and universities with a cast-iron guarantee that, in the event of a fee cut, teaching grants will fully cover the funding shortfall and meet future demand for higher education places.

Second, the overall impact of any reforms to the student finance system must be fair and transparent. We welcome the panel’s call for maintenance grants to be reintroduced for the most disadvantaged students and for the removal of real interest applied to loans during study. We also welcome the panel’s recommendation to better communicate to students and their families the way the student finance system works and to move away from the language of “loans” and “debt”, which we have been calling for in our work with the Money Saving Expert to redesign the student loans statement.

 “However, we are concerned that the overall impact of the proposed reforms will be to place a greater burden on graduates on low and middle incomes. Current student loan arrangements are broadly fair, with higher earners repaying more of their loans over the course of their lifetimes. The panel itself notes that its recommendations would result in lower and middle earners paying more for their degrees than under the present system, as they will need to start repaying earlier and for a longer period of time.

 “The comprehensive impact of these proposals on graduates of differing means must now be carefully assessed. The Government should proceed only with a package of reforms which enhances rather than undermines the progressive nature of student finance.

 Third, any funding settlement should continue to support a full range of academic disciplines. The panel is right to recognise the importance of proper investment in higher cost and strategically important courses, such as science, technology, engineering and medicine, which will be central to future UK growth and prosperity. This is necessary for universities to continue delivering these high-level skills which the economy needs.

 “However, it is crucial that a comprehensive range of other subjects is also supported. Over half of students currently choose arts, humanities and social sciences degrees and these subjects are highly valued by business and public sector employers. The cost of teaching these to a high standard needs to be reflected in any funding settlement. It is vital for the UK that these subjects are sustainable to teach and courses remain open to students.

 “While it is right that, in the event of a fee cut, Government steps in to support high cost and “high value” subjects, we urge the Government to avoid deprioritising other disciplines which are vitally important to our economy, culture and society.

 “We hope the Government will now consult with a wide group of stakeholders including universities, other post-18 providers, student representatives and businesses to consider these detailed proposals. We remain dedicated to working with the Government to help find an outcome that truly supports UK higher education for the wider, national good. A vibrant higher education sector is an investment in our nation’s future.”

Professor Mary Kellett, Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, said:

“The Prime Minister was very clear when she launched England’s Post-18 Review that flexible lifelong learning, including part-time and distance learning, needs to be encouraged.  

“Today’s recommendations to the UK Government by Philip Augar and his panel are a positive step forward. The proposal to create a lifelong learning loan allowance that supports people of all ages to acquire the skills they need would be a massive boost for all who need to fit their study around work, family and other responsibilities. Maximising the potential of our existing workforce is essential if we are to achieve a sustainable supply of skills to meet the ever-evolving needs of business, industry and the public sector.

“Flexible must mean flexible though. Distance learning, such as that offered at the OU for the past 50 years, has flexibility at its core. It supports those in work to earn and learn, wherever they live and work, and means people of all ages and all backgrounds can benefit from life changing learning. We urge the UK Government to ensure that study and maintenance support will be available to all students from all backgrounds whatever mode of study they choose. This absolutely must include distance learners. The Open University is keen to work with the UK Government to ensure that any new policy decisions work for all students.”

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