Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents



106. In its memorandum to our inquiry the Government asserted that lack of financial support should "not present a barrier to students who have the ability and wish to study in higher education", that there was a "generous package of support available in the form of grants and loans" and that "no eligible full-time student has to pay their fees before or during their studies".[213] In addition, all students are able to apply for a loan to meet their full variable tuition fees.[214]

107. The taxpayer via the Government assists students with the costs of higher education though loans and grants. In addition, universities in England provide undergraduate student bursaries. All eligible[215] full-time students can obtain assistance with tuition fees and living costs through student loans. Students can take out two loans per academic year: a student loan for tuition fees, to cover the cost of tuition fees in full; and a student loan for maintenance, to assist with accommodation and other living costs, the size of which depends on household income. Both forms of student loan have to be paid back but, unlike most conventional debts, repayments only start when a student has completed the course and earns over £15,000. In addition to loans, the Government has estimated that around a third of new students are expected to qualify for the full Maintenance Grant or Special Support Grant, and around a further third for a partial grant. Grants do not have to be repaid. Students may also qualify for extra help on top of student loans, grants and bursaries if they are disabled, or have a mental health condition or specific learning difficulty. Moreover, extra help may also be available if a child or an adult depends on the student financially.[216]

108. The main sources of financial help for part-time students are different from those available to full-time students. Depending on a student's circumstances, he or she may be able to apply for the part-time Fee Grant and Course Grant. How much the student will obtain depends on household income and personal circumstances.[217]

Tuition fees

109. The Higher Education Act 2004 introduced variable ("top-up") tuition fees for higher education institutions in England. This new regime allowed higher education institutions to charge tuition fees of any amount up to £3,000 (increasing annually in line with inflation). At the time this policy was being debated there was considerable concern that the amount of debt new graduates would be faced with could dissuade some potential students from entering higher education altogether. Thus, as part of the debate, the Government decided to establish the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) to oversee the introduction of fees with the intention of ensuring that such dissuasion did not occur.[218] The term variable has turned out so far to have been something of a misnomer. As Professor Brown, Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University, put it: "everybody topped up so it is not really a top-up fee, it is the new fee".[219] (We know of one exception, Leeds Metropolitan University which from 2006 set its fees at £2,000.[220] But we note press reports that this policy may be under review in the face of financial pressures.[221])

110. When he gave evidence to the Committee, John Denham confirmed that the Government would review higher education fees and funding in 2009-10, though he did not provide a detailed timetable.[222] We have deliberately not set out to review the question of tuition fees and we make no recommendation as to the level at which variable tuition fees should be capped or whether they should be abolished. Tuition fees came up at several points during our inquiry and we set out below observations which we hope will inform the review of fees.

111. Most universities in England charge the maximum fee permitted—in 2008-09 this was for most undergraduate students £3,145. We asked students about their views on fees.[223] Though we received anecdotal views that some people may have been discouraged from applying to university, we note that the students whom we met or took evidence from were not pressing concerns that fees set at £3,145 across almost all universities were deterring full-time students from applying to university. One student, Edward Nussey, added a word of caution: "When I applied to university, I have got older brothers and they were on the old scheme, and the fact that the costs had gone up did not really come to me that it would be an issue. I just accepted it and went into education and I think it will only hit home when I have to pay it off."[224]

112. What we did see was some greater appreciation of the costs of higher education and focus on the value for money provided by higher education institutions. For example, in the e-consultation some students queried whether they were obtaining value for money for their tuition fees. One said that he could "not find £3,000 worth of value in my course, and I have not received that level of learning back" but explained that "paying the £3000+ fees doesn't really annoy as the payback system is quite good once graduates have received a job".[225] As some students from whom we took evidence had started their studies under the old fees arrangements they were able to make observations on the effects of the increase. Adam Hodgson, a student paying at the old rate, noted that the students in the year below were paying twice the amount and commented that there was:

    absolutely no visible difference as to the kind of university experience they are getting. They get the same amount of lectures, they get the same lecturers, they get the same amount of support, so I would be hesitant to support in any way increasing those fees because I do not see how that would benefit any student at all. I have not seen the benefit between the £1,200 fees to the £3,000 fees.[226]

Others were concerned that fees set following the review at, say, £6,000 or £7,000 would deter applicants.[227]

113. We detected no evidence that variable tuition fees at current levels were driving up quality on campus, which is not surprising given that the fees hardly vary across the higher education sector and so provide little incentive for students to look for value for money between institutions. We found some concerns that applicants might be deterred if the review of fees led to a steep increase in fees.

114. We noted that some Vice-Chancellors have floated,[228] and that Universities UK has modelled,[229] the possibility of substantial increases in tuition fees. We recommend that in its consultation on the review of fees the Government seeks to commission and publish independent research to provide for a detailed and informed debate and consultation on the matter, in particular into the impact of a higher cap on course quality and applications. We further recommend that any higher education institution seeking to increase its fees provide detailed evidence to support its proposals.

115. Nor—for the same reason as stated above—were we able to form a view on the effects of variable fees on student engagement with their studies and higher education institutions. A student, Gemma Jerome, summarised two possible effects:

    I think that there is a connection between students' engagement in education and the money they are putting into it. If you work out that you are paying £25 a lecture maybe you are less likely to miss one. The fact that we do as students—maybe it is our parents, maybe it is through a bursary or maybe it is through a grant—pay for our education means that there is a problem of seeing ourselves as consumers. I know that that can go either way, negative or positive, and usually somewhere in the middle. If you see yourself more as a consumer, are you less likely to play a part in the decision-making process or do you see it as the duty of your institution to make decisions on your behalf because you are paying for them to do that?[230]

116. Towards the end of our inquiry the NUS produced a policy document[231] about the future funding of higher education, in which they argued against a system based on fees with deferred repayments, as at present, and in favour, effectively, of a graduate tax that would endow a "People's Trust for higher education". We do not here comment on the merits of the NUS policy, but we do agree with them that the review of fees should look more widely at the alternative methods of securing the funds. We recommend the Government's review of fees look at the alternative methods of securing the funds needed to sustain a strong higher education sector and should not be concerned exclusively with the appropriate level of fees within the current structure.


117. A key question which the review of fees will have to address is the level of indebtedness—arising from loans for fees and living expenses—with which students leave university. Dr Hood, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, considered that insufficient time was spent on the "question of what is an appropriate level of total indebtedness for a student who comes through our degree programmes to graduate with? That is a discussion that very much should be to the fore when the question of any increase in fees is discussed".[232] He said that once the level of indebtedness was settled other issues could become "self-defining" and, for example, "bursary programmes are going to complement the indebtedness".[233] (We deal with bursaries below.) In our view the student and the level of debt he or she could reasonably be expected to incur has to be a central question for the forthcoming review of fees.


118. We found that our visit to the USA was educative on fees and indebtedness. We became more apprehensive after the visit if the American fee structures and level of student indebtedness were to become the norm in this country. In the USA annual tuition fees range from $3,500[234] to $36,000.[235] With the addition of living costs at $15,000 per year, a student after the usual four year course in the USA can therefore graduate with a debt of over $200,000. Unlike this country, the debt is financed by loans from the banking sector at market interest rates accruing from the day the debt is incurred. We were told of four deleterious consequences:

    a)  graduating students gravitated towards professions that offered the largest salaries and therefore speediest debt reduction—typically the law and, until recently, financial services;

    b)  science and professions such as teaching with lower starting salaries were neglected with the consequence that places on science courses were often filled by overseas students, and government had to finance incentives for students to enter public service, such as debt remission;

    c)  the banks had become vested interests within the higher education sector resisting change because in setting up the system the Federal Government had provided guarantees to the banks with the consequence that student loans were very profitable and almost risk free—it was estimated that if banks were removed from the system of support the Federal Government could save $100 million; and

    d)  in the face of the recession some private universities were dropping what the Americans call "needs blind" admissions, that is, selection of applicants that took no account of ability to pay, and that progress in widening access in these universities could be halted.

119. We should record one other aspect of the US system. The wide range of fees appeared to lead many students to start at (the less expensive) community colleges and then after two years transfer to a state university. Others studied for a period, left and then came back when they could afford the fees with the credits they had previously earned to continue their studies in higher education, so elongating the duration of their studies.[236] We offer these observations on the US system to be fed into the debate on the review of fees.


120. We have not set out to establish whether the introduction of variable fees in England has acted as a deterrent to applications to higher education; nor did we seek evidence on this matter. As we have noted fees have hardly varied as nearly all higher education institutions have charged the maximum amount and the number of applications have increased—significantly in 2009, as we note in paragraphs 12 to 20. We also note that there has been an attempt to mitigate the effects of the increased tuition fees by significant support such as grants and loans as well as the subsidised interest rate on loans. The Government will, however, as part of the review of fees need to examine whether changes in the level of fees has a deterrent on applications to higher education, and in particular on applications from those from lower socio-economic groups and disadvantaged backgrounds. We recommend that the Government commission independent research into the effects of the introduction of variable tuition fees in 2006 and into further increases in fees on applications to higher education from those from lower socio-economic groups and disadvantaged backgrounds. We further recommend that this research be commissioned and published in time to inform the review of fees. As part of the review of fees the Government needs to indicate as part of its vision for higher education over the next 15 years at what level it wants to see tuition fees reach, if it is to persist with the current fee regime. If its objective is to raise the cap on fees significantly towards levels that the market will determine it needs to explain how it will ensure that the deleterious effects we saw in the USA are to be avoided.


121. A condition of charging higher fees from 2006 was that higher education institutions should invest a proportion of their additional fee income in additional access measures, primarily bursaries, to attract applications from low income and other under-represented groups.[237] The minimum level of bursary is the difference between the maximum state support a student can get (through, for example, Higher Education Maintenance Grant and Special Support Grant) and the fee level set by the institution. Thus when variable tuition fees were introduced, institutions, in most cases, were required to offer at least £300 bursaries to those in need. Most bursaries are means-tested on the student's parents' income (unless the student is over 25) and so most students will not qualify for any bursary support. Like grants, bursaries do not have to be repaid. Universities' access agreements do not have to specify the exact mechanics of how their bursaries will work, but they have to specify whether it will be in the form of fee remission or "cash-in-hand" to the student and how eligibility will be determined.[238] The thresholds used for eligibility[239] for, and calculating, bursaries have been increased annually. The current rates are set out in the box below.

Box 2: Fee and grant rates for 2008-09[240]

Basic tuition fee £1,255         Maximum higher tuition fee payable £3,145

Higher Education Maintenance Grant/Special Support Grant £2,835

122. In 2007-08, a typical annual bursary for a student on full state support at a higher education institution was around £1,000 but the range ran from £305 to £3,100. Of higher education institutions charging the full fee (£3,145), 84% were offering bursaries to students above the statutory level for students on full state support (72% also offered bursaries to students in partial state support while 11% defined their own threshold levels).[241] Institutions have used the flexibility to provide a range of bursaries—and this was confirmed by the universities we visited.[242] We heard evidence that bursaries had made a considerable difference, which implied to us that the base level of student support (through loans and grants) was insufficient to provide adequately for students' needs. Lucy Davidson, who was studying nursing at Anglia Ruskin, told us:

    there's a lot of girls on my course where if you were to take the bursary away you would lose all the nurses. We would all walk because we have children, childcare and petrol to pay for and my bursary pays my childcare and my petrol […] without it I couldn't do the course.[243]

123. Other submissions were critical of the present bursary arrangements.[244] The NUS, for example, said:

    we've got a widely variable bursary scheme where in Million+ [group of universities], for example, the average annual bursary awarded in 2006/7 was just £680; in Russell Group universities it was £1,790 and the issue is this: you could have one student at the University of Cambridge with exactly the same financial needs and experience as someone at the university down the road, at Anglia Ruskin. One will have an all-singing, all-dancing bursaries package which will help them out through their hardship at Cambridge and the other one will have a less generous bursary for Anglia Ruskin. That is not because Anglia Ruskin is mean-fisted, it is because they are more successful at widening participation.[245]

Student support, widening participation and fair access

124. We consider that the Government needs to be clear about the purpose of bursaries and to be able to show the benefit of the arrangements in terms of public policy. We identified three possible purposes for public policy in this area: (1) student support and the alleviation of need; (2) widening participation; and (3) making access fairer.

125. If the purpose is student support, NUS's criticisms have identified a weakness with the current arrangements. If bursaries are regarded as part of the student support arrangements, whose purpose is primarily to alleviate student need, then it seems to us anomalous that a student with lesser need, who happens to attend a university with few poor students, should receive more by way of support than another with greater need at a different university. We conclude that the current bursary arrangements cannot be justified on the grounds of equitably matching student support with student needs.

126. Similar considerations appear to apply to widening participation. In an evidence session last year Sir Martin Harris, Director of Fair Access at OFFA, told us that one of his roles was to make sure there was "the most generous possible support" for those from families with low incomes in terms of support both from the Government and through the bursary systems from individual universities.[246] He also explained that when the legislation that became the Higher Education Act 2004 was under consideration there was a fear that there would be a substantial reduction in applications from lower socio-economic groups but that this had not happened. Sir Martin pointed out that "the proportion of students from the poorer groups has not fallen".[247] Although he did not claim that OFFA was wholly responsible, he said that it was "certainly a contributor".[248]

127. The assessment underlying Sir Martin's view appears to be that the bursary system has prevented the introduction of variable fees leading to a significant deterioration in the proportion of those entering higher education from poorer socio-economic groups and that bursaries can be used as a tool to widen participation. We have not, however, in this inquiry carried out a detailed examination of the effects of the present bursary arrangements on widening participation, although, in our view, they cannot meet Sir Martin's call for "the most generous possible support" for those from families with low incomes, because the amount of support a student receives does not depend on his or her needs, or the means of his or her parents, but on which university the student attends and how many other students from poor backgrounds attend that university. We conclude that the current bursary arrangements, which have led to large variations between higher education institutions in support for students with similar needs, cannot be justified on the grounds of widening participation in higher education.

128. On fair access, we found no evidence that the present bursary arrangements have led to more students from poor backgrounds attending those universities that offer the highest bursaries (which are the most selective universities and the ones for whom fair access is an issue). According to the published performance indicators in 2005-06 (before bursaries were introduced) 20.4% of students at universities in England in the 1994 and Russell Groups were from the poorer socio-economic groups. In 2006-07 (the first year of the new bursary arrangements) the proportion had reduced to 20.2%, and in 2007-08 it had continued to reduce to 20.0%.[249] We note that Sir Martin Harris said in February 2009 that:

    all current evidence suggests that the choice of whether or not to go into [higher education] at 18, or whether to choose a particular institution, is not determined primarily financially, least of all by the precise financial package available at that point. The money is not what motivates people. Their decisions are made for other reasons and often very much earlier than at age 18. Choices are made, largely unconsciously, in families, among peer groups, and usually in 11-16 schools.[250]

It appears to us that bursaries have not improved fair access to the most selective universities.

129. We conclude that the present bursary arrangements do not contribute to the national policies of widening participation or fair access. Nor are they an instrument to maximise the affordability of higher education for students from poor backgrounds, which, in our view, is what student support arrangements should be concerned with.

Information about bursaries

130. OFFA's Access Agreement Monitoring Report: Outcomes for 2007-08 showed that 25% of higher education institutions spent less than 90% of the expenditure that they had predicted to spend on financial support for lower income students.[251] We found evidence that students were not aware of bursaries. Steve Topazio, a former student, told us that he did not know about the bursaries until his final year "when the NUS told me they existed and that [our university had under-spent] by a few hundred thousand pounds, so obviously it wasn't a big issue for the university".[252] This point was echoed in the e-consultation where one student said: "the possible sources of Grants and Bursaries were never made clear with the exception of from the Armed Forces, whose bursaries are well publicised. Also, Universities don't necessarily make 'all' of the costs of a degree known, Books and Field Trips for example are […] not mentioned".[253] Another said that bursaries "were something I was less clear on, and I was somewhat bemused that students in certain faculties get bursaries at my university whilst others do not".[254] NUS said that the current bursary arrangements were "complex, and create difficulties for students in making comparisons between different packages of financial support on offer at different institutions."[255]

131. We take the view that it is essential that those considering applying to higher education are made aware of the full financial support, including bursaries, that is available and to be able to have an accurate idea of the costs of attending university. If, following the review of fees, bursaries remain to be set by each institution, we conclude that all higher education institutions must ensure that prospective students are made aware of the bursaries available and can easily establish eligibility and calculate an indicative level of bursary and that at least basic information about a specific institution's approach is provided as part of its pre-admission documentation provided to applicants. (Information about bursaries could also be one of the items required to be included by the code of practice on information for prospective students—see paragraph 98.)


132. The key issue on bursaries is whether the current arrangements should be replaced with a national bursary system. NUS favoured a national bursary system, and it was noteworthy that the question of a national bursary system was about the only major issue on which we detected significant disagreement between the groups representing higher education institutions.

  • The 1994 and Russell Groups opposed a national bursary system which transferred resources generated from additional fee income by one university to provide bursaries for students at other institutions. Professor Grant from the Russell Group challenged the view "that the way of rectifying the inequality of bursaries was to remove money from those institutions who were paying higher bursaries and to transfer it to those institutions who were paying lower bursaries. In other words, I would need to explain to students coming to UCL that part of their fee being paid to UCL would be paid to support education at UCL and part would be paid to support education elsewhere. Have a national bursary scheme—yes. Do not have a cross-transfer which runs completely contrary to the whole point of introducing variable tuition fees."[256]
  • Million+ was in favour of a national bursary system and took a view similar to that of NUS. It told us: "It is completely preposterous that students get a size of bursary not depending on their need but depending on which university they go to. It is as logical as getting a different-sized pension depending on which post office you go to."[257] The University Alliance,[258] GuildHE[259] and the 157 Group[260] also supported a national bursary system.

133. The Russell and 1994 Groups put to us their strong belief that all the additional fee income "belongs to" their member institutions and can only be spent on "their" students. This is not, in our view, a principle that is either demonstrable or sustainable.

134. Critics of the present arrangements—the NUS[261] and the majority of universities[262]—have argued for a national bursary. A national bursary scheme would ensure that students across England would receive the same level of bursary based on need irrespective of the university they attended or the number of students from a similar background at the university they attend. We consider therefore that, in contrast to the current variable bursary arrangements, a national bursary scheme would appear to be able to meet the Government's policy objectives of widening participation and alleviating student hardship. It would also have the benefit of making eligibility for bursaries more transparent.

135. When we asked the former Secretary of State, John Denham, about bursaries, he explained that the idea of the present bursary scheme was:

    to allow institutions to vary the bursary; that was the whole idea of it when people could experiment with whether they wanted to attract particular types of students or support particular types of students, have a heavier weighting in one area or another. It was the idea of being able to see how a more varied bursary system would develop that lay behind the original rejection of a national bursary scheme. My own view is that this has to be one of the issues that we put into the fees and funding review later this year because we do need to allow people to assess what is the evidence. If people have particular types of structures and they said were going to attract this type of student, has it actually worked and has it delivered what people wanted.[263]

136. We consider that the former Secretary of State is right that the question of bursaries and the question of student support needs to be part of the review of fees and we hope the review will approach this question from the perspective of student need, not institutional strategy. We consider that the forthcoming review of fees should comprehensively examine student need and support in higher education. We recommend that the Government include in the terms of reference of the forthcoming review of fees two key guiding principles. First, student need, rather than the characteristics of the university that the student attends, should determine the support that students receive. Second, any arrangements such as bursary arrangements recommended by the review must be shown to contribute to the national policies both of widening participation and fair access. Any arrangements based on these principles will ensure that student support is available to students in higher education institutions across the county in an equitable manner determined according to their need.

137. We consider that it follows from these principles that those universities with small numbers of poor students should provide a fair share of their fee income towards the support of students from poor backgrounds wherever they may be in the higher education sector. A national bursary based on student need financed by contributions drawn from all higher education institutions and allocating bursaries based on need would meet the principles we set out. We consider that a national bursary scheme should also enable students to calculate the total level of support they could expect when making applications to higher education institutions. We favour a national bursary scheme, which would set a realistic national minimum bursary for all students across England. We recommend that the Government draw up and publish as part of the review of fees, and invite comments on, a national bursary scheme. We recommend that the indicative scheme set national minimum amounts for bursaries calculated on the basis of need to which all students in higher education institutions in England would be eligible to apply.

138. We have not taken evidence on the detailed operation of a national bursary scheme. We identified two issues that will need to be addressed in any examination of a national bursary scheme during the review of fees: (1) the risk of duplicating the current arrangements; and (2) the consequences of fees becoming truly variable.

139. On the first issue, when we put the idea of a national bursary scheme to the former Secretary of State, he said that a national scheme would "become indistinguishable from add-ons to student financial support and it would not be clear why you were bothering to have two mechanisms delivering the one outcome".[264] We consider that he has a point. We acknowledge that a national bursary system that duplicated the existing student grant arrangements may not be the best way to proceed. We consider that, if the Government can show that the principles we have set out above can be effectively met by another route—for example, by a redistributive mechanism pooling a percentage of each higher education institution's fee income and redistributing it as additional grant—then that may be a more sensible way forward.

140. As we have noted at paragraph 109, until now nearly all higher education institutions have charged the same fees and they have not varied. This may, however, change after the review of fees. If there were to be a significant increase and differentiation in tuition fees between institutions, the Government would have to assess, as part of the review of fees, whether the minimum national bursary should have an addition linked to the fees charged by an institution and raised directly from the variable tuition fees charged by the institution. Alternatively, the Government could require those institutions charging the higher fees to select students on a "needs blind" basis and provide to those in receipt of national bursaries additional bursaries to meet the costs of the higher fees. If following the review, fees vary significantly, it is essential that students from poor backgrounds have no financial disincentive from attending high-fee institutions and we conclude that the review of fees should ensure that there are arrangements to provide these students with adequate financial support. Such arrangements could include an addition above the national minimum bursary or a top-up bursary provided by the institution charging the higher fees.

141. Finally, the arrangements we suggest in this section would not preclude universities—nor should they, in our view—from providing support to students out of the fee income that they receive, or from other resources through bursaries or scholarships.

Part-time and mature students


142. In April 2009 the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) published its assessment of progress towards making the UK a world leader in skills, employment and productivity by 2020.[265] The Government's aim is for the UK to become one of the top eight countries in the world for skills, jobs and productivity.[266] The UKCES report cites the Global Competitiveness Report, produced by the World Economic Forum, which ranks countries according to a range of measures and on the basis of a "global competitiveness" index. The Forum currently rates the UK economy as the 12th most competitive in the world, a fall of three places from the previous year. The UKCES report noted, on the most relevant measures contributing to this index, that the UK was ranked 8th on labour market efficiency and 18th on higher education and training. The UKCES report points out that the:

    "Higher education and training" [measure] includes a range of eight indicators including secondary and tertiary enrolment; measures of quality (based on an executive opinion survey); and staff training. On all bar one, the UK is adjudged to be at a "competitive disadvantage". Indeed, an "inadequately educated workforce" is identified in the survey as the fourth most problematic factor for doing business in the UK.[267]

143. The Government's strategy to make the UK a world leader in skills, employment and productivity by 2020 rests on implementing for England the targets in the Leitch Report,[268] which includes delivering improved higher skill levels by broadening learning opportunities beyond traditional full-time provision, improving the interaction between higher education institutions and employers, and driving up teaching quality and individual choice.[269]

Other countries

144. During the inquiry it became clear to us that other countries are not going to remain at the same speed and allow the UK to overtake them. When we visited the USA in April 2009 we found that changes were underway. President Obama, in a speech at Georgetown University on 14 April 2009, made it clear that he wanted to see an education system that "prepares our workers for a 21st century economy". He explained that in:

    the 20th century, the GI Bill[270] sent a generation to college, and for decades, we led the world in education and economic growth. But in this new economy, we trail the world's leaders in graduation rates and achievement. That is why we have set a goal that will greatly enhance our ability to compete for the high-wage, high-tech jobs of the 21st century: by 2020, America will once more have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

    To meet that goal, we have already dramatically expanded early childhood education. We are investing in innovative programs that have proven to help schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. We are creating new rewards tied to teacher performance and new pathways for advancement. I have asked every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training, and we have provided tax credits to make a college education more affordable for every American.[271]


145. As we have noted,[272] part-time students are ineligible for the same level of fee or maintenance support that full-time students can obtain. The 157 Group pointed out, as already mentioned,[273] that three-quarters of the funding in 2010-2011 would "go on full-time 17 to 20-year-olds",[274] and thus the remaining quarter supports other part-time students under 21 and part-time and mature students over 21 years of age. Part-time and mature students have, however, an additional source of support—employers—but as the 157 Group noted only "half of employed students in full-time work and therefore studying part-time are actually supported by the employers, and then usually only fees—nothing else".[275] The Group said that it had students saying to its colleges: "'Please don't tell our employers that we are studying', because that may not go down very well".[276] The Birkbeck Students' Union made the point that the part-time sector needed to be funded on the same basis as the full-time sector because "part-time institutions require full-time services, buildings, student support and libraries".[277] It also condemned the negative impact on both students' opportunities and universities' admissions policies which the withdrawal of funding by the Government had caused for those wishing to study an equivalent or lower qualification (ELQs) to that they had already obtained. The Students' Union said that in some instances the problem also affected "students seeking to take a higher qualification when they are not suitable for admission, or entering a course which is exempted by the Government and seeking at a later stage to covertly switch into the ELQ-affected modules".[278]


146. Professor Longden of Liverpool Hope who, with his colleague Professor Yorke from the University of Lancaster, had examined the position of part-time students told us that many of the part-time students he surveyed felt that they were "invisible" and that they were treated as if they were "full time".[279] Professor Yorke said that he had been examining:

    foundation degrees, where people do quite a lot of stuff in the workplace as well as in the education institution, and you begin to get the response from students that as much as they are getting out of this bonding with others is the strength they get from working with other people. That helps and sustains them and helps develop self-esteem, and all the things that go with that. It does happen, but I think probably the way you go about the teaching and learning, and the student experience issue, plays a part in doing that. If you just bring people in and lecture them and then they go away again, they are not going to have much chance of making that bonding. If they work in a group kind of way they are much more likely to make that kind of bonding.[280]

Edward Nussey, a student, echoed Professor Yorke's findings. He told us that he was involved in sport within the university and that "mature students and part-time students who have made commitments toward sport have benefited everyone in the club, no question, because it just brings a wealth of experience and knowledge about several areas that help the university."[281]


147. Professor Baker from GuildHE considered that part-time students had a "raw deal because we are still stuck in a mindset that assumes that the vast majority of students are full-time and 18 years old.[282] He said that "life simply is not like that" and he hoped that the sector could "move away from a division between full-time and part-time and just call them students who are learning in different modes."[283] Professor Craven from the University Alliance said that to "make it much more flexible for students to be able to complete a course, sometimes doing what one would call a full-time load and sometimes not doing a full-time load, is very important. That is something the fees review […] has to look into, to make that more flexible."[284] The Birkbeck Students' Union also made the point that flexibility was important, "particularly with more mature students and part-time students who are juggling care and responsibilities, full-time jobs, and also if you are travelling a long distance onto a campus."[285]

148. Some of the changes underway in higher education look likely to assist part-time and mature students. Professor Burgess explained that the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR) (see paragraph 261 and following) would meet "the requirements of portability and flexibility" and that it would "suit part-time students because you would be able to have a running record of what you had achieved. […] I think in that sense we have looked at something which suits the contemporary university with the way in which students go along different routes, full-time, part-time, modular, and so on."[286] We were also pleased to note that employers had detected more flexibility in the sector. John Harris from SEMTA said that when universities were able to deliver learning in a flexible, part-time way, this was "obviously to the advantage of the employee and the employer. In fairness to universities, they are responding to that. There is a big change going on."[287]

149. We were, however, reminded by Professor Roger Brown that "flexibility always costs more money".[288] He pointed out, for example, that if universities adopted a credit accumulation and transfer system, the examination of which we recommend at paragraph 84, or "if you have more teaching in the evenings and you have people working at weekends it all adds up to money and it increases the demands on the universities and it is not at all clear where that resource will come from."[289]

150. One of the students on the panel, Ricky Chotai, who came back to give evidence in April raised a concern about the effect of the review of fees on sandwich degrees. He asked whether universities would still be charging the full amount or would they be charging 50% for the one year in a four-year course in which the student was placed in industry. Speculating on an annual fee set at £9,000 he said that 50% of £9,000 was £4,500, "which is a lot of money for a year in industry" when "the wages during that year in industry are pretty much minimum wage, and taking into account fees as well, it is a deep consideration for students when they are looking to apply."[290]


151. We have welcomed John Denham's desire to create a framework for higher education over the next 10 to 15 years, and we hope that the Machinery of Government changes do not lead to a delay in the framework's publication. An essential part of that framework will be how it contributes to Ambition 2020 and, in particular, to the provision for part-time students who will play a critical part in meeting those objectives. The higher education sector has shown that it can respond to the needs of part-time students—though as we identify at paragraph 147 and following, there are systematic problems that it still needs to address—but that is the first stage of the journey to Ambition 2020. If as a country we wish to improve the skills, and reskill, a significant proportion of the adult population we need to start changing the framework of higher education now.

152. In our view, the case for improving the treatment of part-time and mature students is compelling. In equity all students must be treated in the same manner. Any system that does not achieve this will discriminate against groups—in this case part-time and mature students—and this is unacceptable. Nor does it make sense, given the scale of the improvement in education and skills that the Government wants to see by 2020, to deny support to part-time and mature students, who have a crucial part to play in achieving this objective. We recommend that the forthcoming review of fees examine all aspects of support for part-time and mature students, including both the direct financial support to part-time students and the nature of changes required which will enable the sector to develop greater flexibility to meet the needs of part-time students. We further recommend that this assessment set a deadline by which the treatment of, and support for, undergraduate students becomes broadly similar, irrespective of whether students study full-time or part-time.

153. We note that there are currently schemes in existence or being developed to assist groups into higher education such as those leaving the armed services.[291] We recommend that the Government review the existing schemes to assist groups into higher education—such as those leaving the armed forces—to establish the lessons that could be applied to assist other groups.

213   Ev 175, para 13 Back

214   Ev 175, para 13 Back

215   Regulations are made annually by the Secretary of State to make provision for the payment of grants and loans to eligible students in connection with their undertaking or attendance on designated higher education courses. For the academic year starting in October 2009 the Education (Student Support) (No. 2) Regulations 2008 (S.I. 2008/1582) as amended by the Education (Student Support) (Amendment)(No.2) Regulations 2008 (S.I.2008/2094) and the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) (No.3) Regulations 2008 (S.I.2008/2939) make provisions and provision is made for the academic year starting in October 2010 in the Education (Student Support) Regulations 2009 (S.I. 2009/1959). The eligibility criteria include "personal" criteria-where the prospective student is "ordinarily resident", whether he or she has taken a higher education course before and age-and "course and institution eligibility" criteria. Back

216   DIUS, How to get financial help as a student, Get the Facts on Student Finance, Information about Higher Education, February 2009; supplemented with information from "Student finance: an introduction" from the directgov website:  Back

217   As above Back

218   Higher Education Act 2004, Part 3 Back

219   HC 370-i, Q 47 Back

220   "Leeds Metropolitan University; University guide 2006", The Sunday Times, 10 September 2006 Back

221   "Leeds Met fees set to rise after v-c resigns", The Times Higher Education Supplement, 22 January 2009; "Jobs at risk as Leeds Met faces £7m shortfall", The Times Higher Education Supplement, 15 May 2009; we note that the University of Greenwich also set its fees below the maximum permitted: £2,900 in 2008-09. Back

222   Q 496; see also para 8. Back

223   HC 370-i, Q 136; HC 370-ii, Qq 360-63; Ev 157-58 (Informal meeting with students at Imperial College London); Ev 160 (Informal meeting with Liverpool Hope students); Ev 163-64 (Informal meeting with University of Oxford students) Back

224   HC 370-i, Q 140  Back

225   Ev 170; see also HC 370-iii, Q 416 Back

226   HC 370-i, Q 136 Back

227   HC 370-i, Q136 (Ms Rowley); see also HC 370-ii, Q 360 (Ms Tye); HC 370-ii, Q 362 (Mr Child). Back

228   "Oxford University losing £8,000 per student", The Guardian, 27 April 2009; "Top universities say tuition fee limits are damaging institutions", The Times Higher Education Supplement, 29 April 2009 Back

229   Universities UK, Changing landscapes: future scenarios for variable tuition fees, March 2009 Back

230   HC 370-i, Q 136 Back

231   Funding Our Future Blueprint: Summary Report; for an alternative higher education funding system, NUS, June 2009 Back

232   HC 370-ii, Q 199 Back

233   As above Back

234   For in-state students at a community college Back

235   For example, at Georgetown University and George Washington University Back

236   This Report deals with credit accumulation and transfer and community colleges at paragraph 81 ff. Back

237   OFFA, Access agreement monitoring Outcomes for 2006-07, January 2008/01, para 3 Back

238   OFFA, Producing Access Agreements: OFFA guidance to institutions, November 2004/01, para 42 Back

239   See footnote 215 Back

240   OFFA, Annual Report 2007-08, Presented to Parliament pursuant to schedule 5 sections 7 (3) and 8 (2) of the Higher Education Act 2004, 2008 p 11 and OFFA, OFFA guidance on reviewing access agreements following revised income threshold levels for maintenance grants from 2008-09, 2 August 2007, annex C Back

241   OFFA, Annual Report 2007-08, Presented to Parliament pursuant to schedule 5 sections 7 (3) and 8 (2) of the Higher Education Act 2004, 2008, p 11 Back

242   HC 370-i, Q 54; HC 370-ii, Q 196 Back

243   HC 370-ii, Q 269 Back

244   Q 227 (Ms Jerome); Q 270 (Mr Topazio, Mr Raja and Mr Harris); Ev 167 (E-Consultation); Ev 314 (Million+); Ev 499 (UCU), para 26; see also Ev 511 (NAO), paras 43-45.  Back

245   Q 149 Back

246   Oral evidence taken before the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee on the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) on 2 June 2008, HC (2007-08), 598-i Q 21 Back

247   As above Back

248   Oral evidence taken before the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee on the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) on 2 June 2008, HC (2007-08) 598-i, Q 4 Back

249   "Table T1b - Participation of under-represented groups in higher education: Young full-time undergraduate entrants 2005/06", "Table T1b - Participation of under-represented groups in higher education: Young full-time undergraduate entrants 2006/07", "Table T1b - Participation of under-represented groups in higher education: Young full-time undergraduate entrants 2007/08", HESA,  Back

250   Record of HEPI Seminar at the House of Commons Seminar, Fair Access Revisited, 24 February 2009 at  Back

251   OFFA, Access agreement monitoring Outcomes for 2007-08, March 2009/02 Back

252   Q 270 Back

253   Ev 167  Back

254   As above Back

255   Ev 262, para 14 Back

256   Q 64 Back

257   Q 64 (Professor Ebdon) Back

258   Q 119 (Professor Craven) Back

259   Q 118 Back

260   Q 119 (Ms Bacon) Back

261   Q 149 and Ev 262, para 14-15 Back

262   Q 64 (Professor Ebdon, Million+); Q 118 (Professor Baker, GuildHE); Q 119 (Professor Craven, University Alliance)  Back

263   Q 528 Back

264   As above Back

265   UK Commission for Employment and Skills, The 2009 Report on Ambition 2020: World Class Skills and Jobs for the UK, April 2009 Back

266   UK Commission for Employment and Skills, The 2009 Report on Ambition 2020: World Class Skills and Jobs for the UK, April 2009, p 3 Back

267   UK Commission for Employment and Skills, The 2009 Report on Ambition 2020: World Class Skills and Jobs for the UK, April 2009, para 1.2.2 Back

268   HM Treasury, Leitch review of skills: Prosperity for all in the global economy-world class skills, Final report, 2006; see also DIUS, World Class Skills: Implementing the Leitch Review of Skills in England, Cm 7181, July 2007, DIUS, Investing in our Future: Departmental Report 2008, Cm 7392, May 2008; and see para 6. Back

269   UK Commission for Employment and Skills, The 2009 Report on Ambition 2020: World Class Skills and Jobs for the UK, April 2009, para 2.3 Back

270   The Servicemen's Readjustment Act, known as the GI Bill provided college and vocational education for US soldiers returning from the Second World War. Back

271   Obama's Remarks on the Economy, New York Times, 14 April 2009 Back

272   At para 108 Back

273   At para 37 Back

274   Q 80 Back

275   Q 117 (Ms Bacon) Back

276   Q 117 (Ms Bacon) Back

277   Ev 217 Back

278   Ev 218, para 11 Back

279   HC 370-i, Q 78 Back

280   HC 370-i, Q 80 Back

281   HC 370-i, Q 142 Back

282   Q 117 (Professor Baker) Back

283   Q 117 (Professor Baker) Back

284   Q 117 (Professor Craven) Back

285   Q 124 Back

286   Q 320 Back

287   HC 370-iii, Q 395 Back

288   Q 394 Back

289   As above Back

290   HC 370-iii, Q 416 (Mr Chotai) Back

291   Ministry of Defence, The Nation's Commitment: Cross-Government Support to our Armed Forces, their Families and Veterans, Cm 7424, July 2008, para A.8 Back

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