From education to employment

Augar’s Higher Education Reform – Sector Response

Philip Augar

Government response to the Augar review, Minimum Eligibility Requirements and Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE)

The Government has responded to the Augar review / post 18 Education review. The Department for Education has announced a new package of measures on higher education reforms, alongside the publication of two consultations on minimum eligibility requirements and a Lifelong Loan Entitlement.

Minimum Eligibility Requirements

Minimum Eligibility Requirements has the aim to ensure young people are encouraged to pursue the right path for them, and receive a fair deal for their investment if they choose to go to university.

This includes considering the introduction of minimum eligibility requirements, to ensure students aren’t being pushed into higher education before they are ready, and student number controls, so that poor-quality, low-cost courses which lead to poor outcomes for students, aren’t incentivised to grow uncontrollably.

Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE)

The second will set out plans to deliver the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) worth the equivalent of four years of post-18 education (i.e. £37,000 in today’s fees) to support students to study, train, retrain or upskill at any stage throughout their lives through flexible and modular courses.

This is a seismic shift in the way post-18 education is funded and accessed, providing more options, unlocking opportunities and improving social mobility. 

The changes to student finance come alongside wider reforms to higher education – backed by nearly £900m in new investment over the next 3 years – to transform the sector, providing more routes across higher and technical education and enabling lifelong access to loans. This include providing more funding for courses that support the NHS such as medicine, dentistry and midwifery as well as science and engineering. This is the largest increase in government funding to support students and teaching in the HE sector in over a decade.  

This announcement alongside the ongoing skills reforms, including the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which will make sure that everyone, no matter their background, can gain the skills they need, at any stage of their life, to kickstart an exciting career or to retrain and upskill for a new role.

The Government are investing £3.8bn more in skills over the course of this Parliament, with Apprenticeships, T Levels, and the Lifelong Loan Entitlement as their flagship programmes. In the Levelling Up white paper, the Government set out a new skills mission that will target 200,000 more people in England to help them complete high-quality training each year by 2030, including the aim of 80,000 more people completing courses in areas of England with the lowest skills levels.

Sir Philip Augar, Chair of the Post-18 Education Review panel said:

“The Skills Bill already going through Parliament, the lifelong learning entitlement, the reforms to student finance and the refocussing of HE provide a framework that is fair, sustainable and has the potential to drive the whole economy forward. The package is consistent with the spirit of the report of the post-18 education panel that I had the privilege to chair and forms the basis of a properly connected further and higher education sector. That connection is long overdue.”

Higher Education Reform – The higher education system in England will be made fairer for students and taxpayers thanks to major reforms announced by the government today.

Student finance will be put on a more sustainable footing by ensuring more students are paying back their loan in full, and there will be a clampdown on poor-quality university courses that don’t benefit graduates in the long-term.  

Under the current system, more people than ever are going to university but too often, students are racking up debt for low-quality courses that do not lead to a graduate job with a good wage. This means that some students never even start paying off their student loan. And currently, only a quarter of students who started full-time undergraduate degrees in 2020/21 are forecast to repay their loans in full.

The Current Value of Student loans is HUGE (£161 Billion!)

The cost of student loans is increasing quickly. The value of outstanding loans at the end of March 2021 reached £161 billion and it is forecast to rise to half a trillion pounds by 2043.

The government is today taking action to tackle the problem head-on, rather than passing the problem on to future generations, by setting out major changes to the way students will repay their loans, and creating a sustainable system which also guarantees access for all.

Student loan interest rate will be set at RPI+0% for new borrowers starting courses from 2023/24

To make the system fairer for students, the student loan interest rate will be set at RPI+0% for new borrowers starting courses from 2023/24, meaning that graduates will no longer repay more than they borrowed in real terms. This meets a key manifesto commitment to address student loan interest rates in this parliament.

Combined with the continued tuition fee freeze announced earlier this month, a student entering a three-year course in academic year 2023/24 could see their debt reduced by up to £11,500 at the point at which they become eligible to repay.

HE Tuition fee cap will be frozen at £9,250 for a further two years

Today the government has also announced the tuition fee cap will be frozen at £9,250 for a further two years – up to and including 2024/25, further reducing the real cost to students.

To make the system fairer for taxpayers, the repayment threshold – the point at which graduates start repaying their student loan – for new borrowers starting courses from September 2023 will be set at £25,000 until 2026-27.

This still means that graduates will not start repaying until they have reached well over the current median young non-graduate salary of £21,500.

This makes sure that someone benefitting from a university degree makes a fair contribution to its cost: for example, a graduate earning £28,000 would pay back £17 a month.

Graduate salaries are continuing to rise – in 2020, the average salary for a graduate aged 21-30 was £6,500 higher than for a non-graduate – so it is right we ask those who are benefitting financially from the investment the taxpayer has made in their higher education to contribute towards it.  

Student loan repayment term will also be extended to 40 years for new borrowers from September 2023  

The student loan repayment term will also be extended to 40 years for new borrowers from September 2023, to ensure more students repay their loan in full, taking into account the fact that people are now working and earning for longer.

Taken together, these changes will lead to significant savings, ensuring the student finance system is sustainable for the long term and can continue to benefit hundreds of thousands of students each year.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said:

“Our country’s world leading universities and colleges are key to levelling up opportunity by opening up access to a range of lifelong flexible post-18 options to help people train, retrain and upskill.

“This package of reforms will ensure students are being offered a range of different pathways, whether that is higher or further education, that lead to opportunities with the best outcomes – and put an end once for all to high interest rates on their student loans.

“I am delighted to oversee such a substantial amount of investment – nearly £900m – reinforced by a revised, fairer, and more sustainable student finance system which will keep Higher Education accessible and accountable. These changes will create a fairer system for both students and the taxpayer.”

Higher and Further Education Minister Michelle Donelan:

“We are delivering a fairer system for students, graduates and taxpayers as well as future-proofing the student finance system. We are freezing tuition fees and slashing interest rates for new student loan borrowers, making sure that under these terms no-one will pay back more than they have borrowed in real terms. This Government is delivering on its manifesto pledges.

We are investing an extra £900m in our post 18 education system and bringing about a revolutionary change in the way students can study, retrain and upskill throughout their lifetime.”

Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, commenting on the Government’s response to the Augar Review, said

“The Tories are delivering another stealth tax for new graduates starting out on their working lives which will hit those on low incomes hardest.

“Instead of fixing the broken system these changes simply store up problems for the future. Ministers are kicking the can down the road while seeking to limit young people’s aspirations to study at university. Instead of focusing on supporting more students to succeed at school or widening access to university, the Government is slamming the door on opportunity.

“Parents and grandparents across this country are incredibly proud of their children who are working hard for degrees that the Government is now rubbishing. That is insulting.”

Sector Reaction to LLE, Minimum Entry Level Requirements and the HE review

Simon Ashworth, AELP Director of Policy says:

“Alongside the Lifelong Learning Entitlement (LLE), the introduction of Lifelong Learning Accounts is an exciting step towards establishing a new system which gives employers and learners greater choice and control of their learning.

“Other parts of the announcement are welcome too. The lack of maintenance is already a barrier to learning for many across the FE sector, so we also pleased to see that the government will be including this in the LLE consultation. Modular and flexible learning approaches are also a positive move – but these need to be a priority for all levels not just 4-6.

“We would, however, urge caution regarding the reforms to the student finance system. Advanced learner loans must not be forgotten about. They are an important part of the system – with most of this provision taking place in FE rather than HE.”

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges said:

“A fairer higher education system will support colleges to deliver flexibly, part-time to adults who would not otherwise benefit from studies at that level. Until now, the HE system has been designed to favour full-time, mainly young Bachelor degree students. A key test of these proposals therefore is how far they enhance opportunities for adults and support college HE to grow whilst protecting what universities do so well.

“Importantly, though, we need to see how the proposals knit with other FE reforms which need to support millions more adults with skills and training to help them get on in work, escape low-paid and precarious jobs and step up to the higher-level skills needed in the modern labour market. The Lifelong Learning Entitlement must be complemented by learning that helps every adult access higher level education and training.  

“This consultation has been a very long time coming and implementation is some time off. We would like to see the promise of the Lifelong Learning Entitlement – access for every adult to flexible, part-time, and local training throughout a person’s lifetime as their circumstances and industry changes – to be delivered as soon as possible. Government needs to stop talking about a Lifelong Learning Entitlement and get on and deliver it.

“We will carefully examine the proposals on minimum entry requirements, maintenance support and the role of colleges before we can comment on the potential impact of these reforms. There is a risk to adult widening participation because adults often enter college HE without a suite of GCSEs or A Levels and go onto good outcomes, including good jobs and promotions; excluding them through a minimum entry requirement would be perverse.”

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, Learning and Work Institute said:

“The Government is clearly concerned about the growing cost of higher education to the public purse. However, it needs to ensure that its proposed solutions don’t end up harming social mobility or narrowing opportunity. Minimum entry requirements could cut off access to perhaps 20,000 students per year, at least some of whom could benefit from higher education. Similarly, the low earnings of some graduates at least in part reflect the labour market and structure of some sectors – we need to make sure we don’t reduce the number of people wanting to work in sectors such as social care.

“Just as importantly, if the Government wants people to make different choices, then it needs to create more quality options. That means increasing the number of higher apprenticeships and higher technical education places. Otherwise it risks shutting one door without opening others. Everyone who can benefit should get the chance to access higher education, by levelling up opportunities not levelling down.”

Commenting on the proposals, David Robinson, Director, Post 16 and Skills of the Education Policy Institute (EPI) said: 

“We welcome the government’s plans to introduce a Lifelong Loan Entitlement. Giving adults the opportunity and support to further their education and retrain is likely to benefit not only their personal income, but the economy and labour market more widely.

“We do, however, think that the government should proceed with caution in relation to the proposed reforms to higher education funding and access. Proposals to introduce minimum entry requirements for students must be carefully considered by the government, along with an assessment of the impact on disadvantaged and under-represented groups. 

“Existing analysis from UCAS suggests that students from low-income families, black students and those from parts of the North and the West Midlands could be most affected by these changes. Many of these students will be applying for university in the next few years will also have experienced considerable learning loss as a result of the pandemic.

“At present, students who do not achieve a grade 4 in English and Maths at GCSE may have limited options in accessing Level 3 courses, including T Levels. This, in turn, means it is harder for them to secure two Es at A Level (or equivalent). It is therefore important that the government considers whether contextual factors, such as student background or learning loss, should be taken into account when applying for student loans. Importantly, the
government must also provide resources to support schools to ensure that more disadvantaged pupils achieve these minimum entry requirements.

“The government should also consider the impact of minimum entry requirements and student number controls on specific courses, to ensure these proposals do not jeopardise certain industries, particularly creative skills.

“The proposed changes to fees and repayment plans look likely to increase the contributions from graduates to the cost of higher education. However, these policies are likely to result in lower to middle earning graduates paying more than they currently do, while higher earning graduates are likely to pay less.

“Overall, we are concerned that the proposals relating to higher education appear to be regressive and further thought must be given to ensuring that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are not adversely impacted.”

David Gallagher, CEO for NCFE, said:

“We absolutely welcome the government’s long overdue response to the Augar Review, and the focus it has placed on ensuring access to high-quality educational options for learners of all ages. With every educational reform, the government needs to be providing people with the means, motivation, and opportunity to manage and direct their futures.

“As a result, the proposed changes to the Lifelong Learning Entitlement would put control in the hands of the individual, and give them to means to take on the type of higher level qualifications which could help turbocharge skills levels and boost national productivity. To underline this exciting development, the Department should also consider maintenance support for full-time learners, which would be vital as we navigate the cost-of-living crisis.

“When it comes to the announcements around student loans, although there are lots of positives to emerge, there are still elements that we believe need to be reconsidered. The move to restrict loans to only those who have achieved an English and maths GCSE or two A-Levels at Grade E is disappointing, denying access to financial support for those learners going down a vocational route (for example, Functional Skills). This means excluding some of the very people who really need access to this support, in order to progress to university.

“Overall, university should be positioned as just one option of many, and by no means the only gateway to success. In fact, though access to higher education and the widening of participation is undeniably fantastic, it shouldn’t lead people to discount the other, equally valuable paths that they might take in their career.  

 “Ultimately, learners need to be empowered and informed to fulfil their potential – whether that’s through academic education, vocational education or a mixture of the two – to make the right decisions about their future. If we want to create a system which works for everyone, the government needs to take steps to integrate all forms of education.”

Commenting on today’s announcement on the Governments response to the Augar Review, Ian Pretty, Collab Group CEO, said:

“Following the Government’s response to the Augar Review, we welcome the consultation on the introduction of a life-long loan entitlement for those looking to study courses at Levels 4-6. The Government has repeatedly argued that the provision of higher technical education (Level 4-5)is a key part of a high wage high skill economy. However, currently, learners looking to enrol on higher technical education courses are not eligible for the equivalent loans provided to those on undergraduate degrees. Our ongoing research into higher technical education has shown uptake in has shown a decline of 32% in the uptake of this education 2015/16. The availability of loans as part of a more streamlined funding system is undoubtedly a step towards reversing this decline.

“However, the Government must still be clearer around its plans for higher technical education. For instance, who is the target market for these higher skills? The implications of a life-long funding entitlement for learners suggest these reforms are targeted towards older learners looking to reskill. However, is there any guarantee older learners are going to be willing to take on a debt of up to £37,000? Furthermore, the Apprenticeship Levy provides funding for employers to take on apprentices without the need to pay it back. The offer for Level 4-5 therefore still falls far short of this. Competition with apprenticeships may minimise the impact these reforms will have on higher technical education takeup. Finally, is there evidence that the demand from employers for Level 4-5 qualifications really exists? Fixing the funding system to have parity with degrees is only one step, but the Government still needs to be clearer as to what problems it is trying to solve.”

Commenting on the Department for Education’s announcement of changes to the higher education system, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“We welcome steps to reduce student loan interest rates and we understand the need to address the scale of the student loan book. However, this comes with a sting in the tail as students will now face 40 years rather than 30 years of repayments. We also note that these reforms stop some way short of the recommendations in the Augar Review to reduce tuition fees to £7,500 per year and reintroduce maintenance grants for disadvantaged students. This latter omission is particularly disappointing in terms of improving social mobility and access to university.

“We are concerned about the introduction of minimum eligibility requirements and student number controls. The proposal that students should have at least a Grade 4 pass in GCSE English and maths effectively excludes around one third of pupils from progressing to higher education. This is the proportion of pupils who do not achieve these grades in a normal year.

“We should be doing more rather than less to support the progress of this ‘forgotten third’, and a move to restrict their choices sounds like removing a ladder up rather than levelling up.

“It is important to understand that higher education is not the preserve of an academic elite. Many colleges and universities work hard to improve access to under-represented groups of students and improve their life chances. Our understanding is that relatively few young people currently studying in higher education have not attained at least a Grade 4 in GCSE English and maths . Nevertheless, removing this route closes down another option, and smacks of a lack of ambition on the part of the government for the young people who most need our help and support.

“Taken together we cannot escape the conclusion that these reforms represent an attempt to save money by reducing the number of students who access higher education and extending the loan period to make sure that they pay back more. The appeal to the Treasury is obvious but the hardest hit will once again be our most disadvantaged young people.”

HE Perspective on the reforms: UUK response to government’s announcement on funding for post-18 education

Alistair Jarvis CBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:“The country needs its universities and graduates to be at the forefront of post-COVID economic recovery, supporting the NHS and creating good jobs in local communities.Now is not the time to shrink or underfund universities, nor place a cap on aspiration by restricting the number of places for people to study at university.​”

“Government must ensure that anyone with the potential to succeed at university has the opportunity to do so and the country has the supply of highly-skilled people that business and public services need.” 

“The Lifelong Learning Entitlement has the potential to be transformational, enabling mature learners, those in work, and those looking to upskill with the funding they need to study flexibly.”

“The uplift in grant funding is a positive, however, the tuition fees freeze for another three years leaves universities under even greater pressure to do more with less. With growing inflation pressures, it will be increasingly challenging for universities to maintain the high quality of education that students rightly expect.”

Dr Alexis Brown, Director of Policy and Advocacy, Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) said:

“The interim Augar response made clear that the Government was keen to reduce the cost of higher education to the taxpayer, and announcements today show that they expect graduates to pick up more of the tab. Many will say it is fair for graduates’ contribution to increase, given the average salary premium they earn over non-graduates — but these new measures will be compounded by a national insurance increase as well. 

“Should the new minimum entry requirements be implemented, some students will be effectively barred from accessing higher education altogether — and this measure will affect disadvantaged students disproportionately. A lower repayment threshold and longer repayment period will also affect middle-income earners more than higher earners. 

“If Government is determined to lower costs, however, arguably none of the options were going to be ideal. Had they kept student finance measures the same, for example, but introduced strict student number caps to reduce costs, that would have limited the total number of places available just as the population of 18 years olds is about to explode over the next decade. 

“Universities will be relieved that the fee level hasn’t been cut to £7,500, as the Augar review recommended. But that hardly means their finances won’t feel the squeeze as inflation rises. Already, inflation has eaten away at the real terms value of fee to the extent universities now have 15% less to spend on teaching each student than they did in 2012. The Government has clearly realised that the easiest way to reduce costs in this regard is to simply let inflation do the job for them.”

In response to the Government’s announcement on post-18 education funding changes, NUS UK President Larissa Kennedy said:

“These changes will cost new graduates on lower and middle incomes tens of thousands of pounds over the course of their careers. At a time where the cost of living is soaring and grad salaries crashing, for many, these changes could be the difference between heating and eating. The Minister is saddling young people with unimaginable debt for the next forty years of their lives. This is nothing more than an attack on opportunity. 

“Students have a vision for something better than this. We are coming together on strike on March 2nd for a world where education is shared, not a product to be bought and sold, and where we build it, we don’t buy it.” 

Commenting on the Government’s plans around accessing higher education, NUS UK President Larissa Kennedy said: 

“Reports that the Government is planning to introduce minimum entry requirements and student number controls are nothing more than an attack on opportunity. This Government parrots the language of “levelling up” but these proposals are classist, ableist and racist: they target those from marginalised communities, and seek to gatekeep education. It confirms what the National Union of Students has long suspected – what they called ‘access’ was really a closed door and now the myth of this system has been exposed as a lie. 

“Education is a public good which works for the benefit of society. It isn’t a product which can be bought and sold for profit.  

“Now is the time to reimagine education that is rooted in care and liberation. Something altogether different and better. First students resisted this system. We’ve tried to reform this system. But the time has now come to replace this system. That’s why we are coming together to create an alternative on 2nd March at our student strike”

On plans to consult on limiting access to student loans, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘Plans for eligibility requirements to access student loans are an attack on working class learners and fly in the face of the levelling up-agenda. The government might claim it wants to create opportunities and develop talent, but on the evidence of this announcement ministers appear more determined to shut the door on those it thinks aren’t worthy of going to university. Young people will see the government’s proposed new eligibility criteria for what it is: an attack on their aspiration which aims to shut more of them out of higher education.

‘We saw during the pandemic that those from better off backgrounds benefited most from grade inflation with private schools gaming the system. Eligibility requirements threaten to make this situation worse, creating huge pressure on schools and colleges to inflate grades so that their students get into university, and further entrenching the divide between private and state schools.

On ‘low quality’ degrees, Jo said:

‘Lazy attacks on so-called ‘mickey mouse’ degrees and an obsession with reductive graduate employment metrics are indicative of a government that doesn’t understand the purpose of higher education, as demonstrated by its earlier assault on funding for arts courses. There are a whole range of reasons why people choose to go to university, education is not just the job market’s conveyor belt.

‘A focus on arbitrary graduate outcomes such as salary would also be toxic for widening participation, discouraging institutions from taking any students who aren’t considered a safe bet for graduate employment. It could have perverse consequences on university access for those who face systemic discrimination in the workplace, such as Black and disabled people. It also completely ignores the reality of the labour market in many sectors, particularly arts and culture, where freelance and portfolio work is common.

On changes to student loan repayments, Jo said:

‘The government is deliberately increasing the amount of debt lower earning graduates will pay. This is utterly regressive and forces young people to make a devil’s bargain, saddling themselves with a lifetime of debt in an effort to improve their life chances. Higher earning graduates will pay their loans back quicker and those from richer backgrounds will take on less debt. This is an attack on working class learners.

On the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, Jo said:

‘Further extending the student debt burden into further education with lifelong loans is another example of a Conservative government that continues to fund education through regressive means. Alongside student loan changes that mean lower-earning graduates pay more, this is a tax on education and aspiration. New types of student loans cannot reverse the damage done to further education by a decade of chronic underfunding.’

Johnny Rich and Rae Tooth from the Fair Access Coalition said:

“Today’s announcements will make it harder for young people from underrepresented backgrounds who are already less likely to attend university to do so. Each proposal cuts away at opportunity. Taken together, these proposals will create an insurmountable barrier for some young people from underrepresented backgrounds who have the potential to succeed in higher education. Minimum entry requirements and other blunt policies fail to account for the number of inequalities young people face in our education system before applying to university.

“We will only achieve fair access for young people from underrepresented backgrounds by making our education system fair. These proposals fail to meet this challenge and damage the life chances of those who already have the fewest opportunities.”  

Government plans to change university access threatens future economy, says National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB)

The Government has proposed a series of changes to university access and funding that will prevent employers from accessing the talent they need in future and hinder UK growth, says the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB). 

The measures include limiting the number of students attending university and introducing arbitrary entry requirements. They also include the introduction of higher costs for students and graduates and less funding per student for universities.

Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of NCUB, said: “We are very concerned about the combined impact of the changes announced today, which are a serious blow to employers and the future economy. These proposals seem entirely contradictory to the Government’s central plans to grow our knowledge economy and level up. The skills learned at university are the skills needed at work. Blocking capable students from entering university and squeezing university funding at a time when living costs are soaring will reduce rather than grow the talent our knowledge economy needs.”

Marshall continued: “Whilst any sector with the longevity and scale of the higher education system can evolve and adapt, these measures announced today are too blunt and risk limiting opportunities for individuals and for employers.  Universities have worked hard to adapt and innovate in a rapidly changing sector, to changing needs and changing student bodies. We are calling on the Government to reconsider before long term, irreversible impacts are felt.”

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chair of the Sutton Trust and chair of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“University is the surest route to social mobility for those from poorer homes. It is crucial that young people with the potential to benefit are able to access higher education wherever they are in the country and whatever their background.

“The Lifelong Loan Entitlement has the potential to boost social mobility, with people being able to gain qualifications at various stages of their lives. We know that those from lower income homes will especially benefit from more flexibility to dip in and out of education at various points. 

“However, today’s announcement represents a missed opportunity to implement some of the key recommendations from the Augar Review.

“The Augar Report supported the Trust’s call for the re-introduction of maintenance grants for the poorest students who, under the current system, graduate with more debt than their wealthier peers. While today’s proposal for new scholarships is welcome, re-instating crucial maintenance support should be the priority for any changes to the student finance system.

“As we recover from the pandemic, we should be doing all we can make sure that young people have access to high-quality routes which will lead to the jobs they want. Minimum entry requirements to access student finance will inevitably impact poorer students the most, as they are less likely to do well at school. The emphasis should instead be on significantly increasing the number of high-quality alternatives to university, especially apprenticeships, and ensuring that all young people have the guidance and support needed to make an informed choice about their next steps.”

Robert Colvile, Director of The Centre for Policy Studies said:

‘It’s encouraging to see the Government focus on delivering value for money both for students and taxpayers, and acting to address some of the most unfair aspects of the current system, which we’ve highlighted in our research. In particular it is welcome to see ministers address the extortionate level of the interest rate on student debt and the way a minority of poor-quality courses tarnish the reputation of the higher education sector – and the prospects of the students that take them. It’s also good to see the continued focus on apprenticeships and lifelong learning, as part of the overdue effort to diversify tertiary education beyond the traditional three-year degree”

Will Tanner, Director of Onward, said:

“For too long many young people have been encouraged towards unsuitable degrees that do little to help their careers or even leave them financially worse off. The Government is right to put a stop to this and I hope that universities work with ministers to stamp out low-quality courses and ensure every young person is on their right path.

“These reforms, coupled with a generous new National Scholarship Scheme for disadvantaged bright young people, could transform higher education for the better and help young people build better futures, irrespective of their background.”

James Kirkup, Director of the Social Market Foundation, said: 

“The Lifelong Loan Entitlement has the potential to give more people the opportunities offered by Britain’s great universities and colleges, something that will only become more important as lifespans rise and careers get longer.  It’s a chance for education providers and employers to work together to offer more education to more people in new and flexible ways, benefiting learners and the UK economy.   Degree apprenticeships are another good example of that sort of partnership and demonstrate how the different parts of the education and skills system can come together to offer new opportunities and support a more productive economy.”

David Goodhart, Head of Skills and Training at the Policy Exchange think tank and author of Head, Hand, Heart: The Struggle for Dignity and Status in the 21st Century (Penguin):

“These measures are another important step towards rebalancing post-school education and training. For too long we have been over-producing academically trained youngsters with low quality degrees who are unable to get graduate jobs, while employers are desperate for people with middle level technical and digital skills. The Lifelong Loan Entitlement should also help to reverse the plunge in part-time and mature students in higher education, while targeted investment boosts those higher academic skills that we do need in STEM disciplines.”

Government plans will make it harder for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to go to university, Greens warn

The Green Party has strongly criticised Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi’s announcement of the Government’s response to the Augar Review of higher education. 

Young Greens co-chair Jane Baston said,

“It is scandalous that the Government will make it much harder for students from working class and disadvantaged backgrounds to enter universities, further entrenching the inequalities and marketisation within higher education. 

“The minimum entry requirements and restrictions on student loans that the government is introducing will disproportionately impact those who do not come from a privileged background. Behind these changes is a deeply regressive vision of education that rewards those with access to private tuition and penalises those who do not fit the Conservative ideology.” 

Green Party education spokesperson Vix Lowthion said,

“The Green Party believes that education should be accessible for all, regardless of background and income, and we support the scrapping of high stakes examinations and the removal of tuition fees. Students should not have to face any further barriers to access an education.”

Responding to the announcement, Phil Hall, Head of Public Affairs and Public Policy, AAT, said:

“Higher Education is a great route to employment for some but it can be an expensive option and the changes made today will make it even less affordable for many.

Recent AAT research has shown high numbers of graduates either regret their degree programme or admit it hasn’t played an important role in their career. This suggests it would make sense for schools and policymakers to do much more to promote alternative routes to employment such as apprenticeships – whether in accountancy or any other subject.

“Apprenticeships not only mean no debt for students but earning a salary whilst learning valuable skills, gaining widely recognised qualifications and getting ahead of the competition too.”

AAT research published this month showed that:

  • Only 29% of 18-24-year-olds said that they heard about alternatives to degrees, such as apprenticeships, while at school. However, 53% of this age group think there should be more resources available to help people learn about apprenticeships.
  • 41% of 18-24-year-olds believe that apprenticeships don’t pay enough and 34% think that apprenticeships are only available for manual labour jobs. Just 36% see apprenticeships as a good alternative to university, whilst only 40% are aware that apprenticeships enable people to earn whilst they learn.
  • 42% of people aged 21-45 believe their degree has not played an essential role in their careers to date and 16% of all people with degrees wish that they had chosen a different route – rising to 20% of those aged 24 and under.

Professor Nick Braisby, Vice-Chancellor at Buckinghamshire New University

 “We cautiously welcome the clarity the government has given to the sector by publishing its response to the Augar report. Parts of today’s response will positively impact the sector and society for years to come. The proposed Lifelong Learning Entitlement has the potential to revolutionise the way in which many learners access education across their lives, giving them the flexibility they need to pursue a university education.

 “However, there are aspects of today’s announcement which will cause the sector real concern. While the planned RPI+0% interest rate on student loans means students will not repay more in real terms than they borrow, increasing the repayment term from 30 to 40 years means lower-to-medium graduate earners will effectively pay more for their education over their lifetime. Our graduates will now increasingly depend on the creation of high-skilled job growth to pay back their loans sooner.

“The freezing of the tuition fee cap for a further two years, until 2024/25 will, as the government says, reduce the “real cost to students” but will also reduce, in real terms, the money Universities receive in order to fund tuition. This continued freeze in per student funding is unsustainable and points to a growing and significant challenge with regard to the underfunding of the UK’s world-leading higher education sector.

 “The government has also announced a consultation on minimum eligibility requirements. We welcome the fact that the government intends to listen to the sector, and we will engage constructively with the government on this issue. We will urge the government to consider its proposed minimum eligibility requirements carefully and sensitively, striving to ensure that those who want to enter higher education are given every opportunity to improve their lives. The continued rhetoric around poor-quality courses with poor outcomes for students is damaging to the sector and its reputation globally. Higher education is at its best when giving everyone the opportunity to succeed, democratising knowledge, and helping make our society fairer and more equal.”

Professor David Latchman, Vice-Chancellor, Birkbeck, University of London said:

“I welcome further detail on the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE) which has the potential to be transformational for working adults seeking to access education. We also welcome the Government’s proposal to retain Foundation Years in higher education, as these provide an important access to university for students who may not have gained the qualifications needed to enter straight onto a degree course.

“I am pleased that students studying for part-time degrees will not have to attain the minimum entry requirements to access a student loan to cover their fees, as most students studying part-time at Birkbeck, do so whilst they work or maintain other commitments outside of their studies, which gives them important life experience that they bring to their studies.

“I also welcome the proposal to continue to allow mature students to secure loans, whether or not they meet the minimum entry requirements. To continue to open up higher education to more people from disadvantaged backgrounds, I firmly believe mature students should be able to access loans from the age of 21.”

Responding to the government’s announcement LTE Group Deputy CEO and Principal of The Manchester College, Lisa O’Loughlin, commented:

“We welcome the consultation on plans to introduce a lifelong loan entitlement, which include making loans available to students looking to study Higher Technical Qualifications at level 4 and 5. Expanding higher technical provision is a key means of building a high-wage, high-skill economy, and FE colleges’ excellence in providing technical education, allied with their close links with industry, makes them ideally placed to deliver this agenda.

“The Manchester College is already playing a leading role in collaborating with colleges across Greater Manchester to develop a suite of high-quality technical training routes for young people and adults in the city region and beyond. What we need to see in the coming months and years is a sustained commitment from the government to promoting this new suite of courses to employers to ensure that they develop into a major route through which more young people and adults reach their potential.

“While some of the details of the proposals announced today require further unpicking, including the introduction of minimum GCSE English and maths grades for progressing to higher education and the impact this would have on the routes available to young people and adults as they seek to upskill, we welcome moves to entrench technical education as an aspirational route into a successful and rewarding career, alongside higher education and apprenticeships.”

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