Clever accounting: our gift to the world

Willetts adviser says coalition approach to finance may shape global academy. John Morgan reports

May 16, 2013

An adviser to David Willetts has floated the idea that graduates could pay more towards their loans to fund extra places, while suggesting that the student movement may lack electoral impact because of “ugly protests”.

In an article in Contemporary British History, Nick Hillman, special adviser to the universities and science minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, also describes the off-balance-sheet nature of student loans - central to the government’s higher education policy - as “clever accounting”.

Mr Hillman positions the coalition’s reforms as successor to the income- contingent loans introduced under previous governments. He argues that the Browne review, which paved the way to scrapping teaching grant in most subjects, was “in tune with the general direction of policy over the preceding 25 years”.

Awareness of the costs of mass higher education had grown from the 1980s onwards, argues the paper, titled “From grants for all to loans for all: undergraduate finance from the implementation of the Anderson report (1962) to the implementation of the Browne report (2012)”.

In a section titled “the rationale for student loans”, Mr Hillman notes government scepticism in the 1980s about how spending on loans could save money. But he says that “clever accounting methods were devised to ensure that only the expected write-off costs of loans appeared as current public spending, rather than the full cash outlay.”

He adds that since 2010, the savings from expanding loans have helped to protect funding for schools, the NHS and pensioners’ benefits.

Mr Hillman argues that while student finance issues may affect elections in individual constituencies, their overall impact is easily exaggerated.

“Perhaps the student movement, which has proved susceptible to political activists prone to ugly protests, [seems] unworthy,” he suggests.

Looking at the challenges of widening access to higher education in financially constrained times, he writes: “One way to square this circle would be to reduce further the cost of each student for government - for example by securing higher loan repayment rates - and then recycling some or all of the savings within higher education.”

He notes that Browne “recommended 30,000 extra student places each year”. Mr Hillman concludes that internationally, “it is reasonable to foresee some harmonisation of student support systems along English lines”.

He adds that “the key question about the latest round of changes to undergraduate finance in England may not be whether the reforms survive but the extent to which other countries seek to emulate them”.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Professor-Keith Cameron Chair of Australian History UNIVERSITY COLLEGE DUBLIN (UCD)
Senior Procurement Officer UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST OF SCOTLAND
Clinician, Small Animal Emergency Services UNIVERSITY COLLEGE DUBLIN (UCD)
Director COVENTRY UNIVERSITY COLLEGE

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016