New panel to review HE funding: beware of the dangers!

According to the Times Higher Education:

A sector-wide panel of experts is to look at ideas for reforming England’s university funding system after an influential thinktank said that trebling fees has saved the taxpayer less than £400 a year per student.

The panel is convened by Universities UK, the club of university vice-chancellors, which previously lobbied for higher tuition fees.

It will be chaired by UUK president Sir Christopher Snowden, vice-chancellor of the University of Surrey, who said he wanted to seek a “broad political consensus for a sustainable system of funding”.

Other members of the Student Funding Panel include six other university leaders, economist and principal of Hertford College, Oxford Will Hutton, and Emran Mian, director of the Social Market Foundation and the former civil servant who was lead author on the 2010 Browne Review [which recommended the trebling of tuition fees].

Although this is an admission that the current funding system is in crisis, we should be worried. The over-riding purpose of the panel is to reduce the cost of loans to the state, not to investigate a fairer or more rational funding system. Already there are hints that repayment rates should be increased:

According to the IFS report, if graduates were asked to pay 12 per cent of their income over £21,000, instead of the current 9 per cent, the loan write-off rate would fall from an estimated 43.3 per cent to 35.6 per cent. A 15 per cent deduction would lead to a write-off of 30.9 per cent – close to the 28 per cent default rate originally predicted by ministers.

Lowering the repayment threshold from £21,000 to £18,000 would also yield savings, but less dramatically, by lowering the write-off rate to 36.9 per cent.

According to the Guardian:

Sir Christopher Snowden, the president of Universities UK and Surrey vice-chancellor who will chair the panel, left open the possibility that the terms of student loan repayments could be changed to keep the current funding model sustainable.


The National Union of Students (NUS) will be asked to prepare a submission to the panel. The student movement should be demanding:

  • No increase in the repayment rate
  • No lowering of the repayment threshold
  • The abolition of student debt and the introduction of grants
  • Free education funded through taxing the rich.


From Universities UK:

Members of the panel include:

  • Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, Universities UK President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Surrey
  • Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell, Chair of the Universities UK’s Funding Policy Network and Vice-Chancellor, University of Bath
  • Professor Janet Beer, Vice-Chancellor, Oxford Brookes University
  • Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor, University of Reading
  • Will Hutton, Chair of the Independent Commission on Fees
  • Paul Johnson, Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS)
  • Emran Mian, Director of the Social Market Foundation
  • Professor David Latchman, Master of Birkbeck, University of London
  • Professor Paul O’Prey, Vice-Chancellor, University of Roehampton
  • Mike Rowley, UK Head of Education, KPMG
  • Professor Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor, University of Exeter

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