Philip Augar has stressed that his panel’s report on English post-18 education “needs to be seen as an integrated piece”, after a former universities minister expressed fears that the government could seek to implement the recommended fee cut without full replacement funding.
The independent panel report to the government’s review of post-18 education, chaired by Dr Augar, recommended that tuition fees should be cut from £9,250 to £7,500. But it said that the government “should replace in full the lost fee income by increasing the teaching grant”, leaving the average unit of funding “unchanged”.
However, Lord Willetts, the former universities minister, told Times Higher Education that there was a risk the government could make the fee cut without introducing full replacement funding. The Treasury is thought to be opposed to the panel’s plan to increase direct public spending on universities.
Asked about the interconnected nature of the recommendations and Lord Willetts’ warning, Dr Augar told THE: “Our job, our brief…was to produce an impartial, evidence-based report and we have – and we’ve delivered that to government.”
The former banker added that “all parts [of the recommendations] do link together; unpicking any one part could potentially have knock-on consequences for the rest and it needs to be seen as an integrated piece”.
Damian Hinds, the education secretary, adopted a similar position when he told the House of Commons on 4 June that “the panel’s recommendations on student finance are detailed and interrelated, and cannot be considered each in isolation”.
Dr Augar refused to be drawn on the politics around the report or its potential future in the absence of its political parent, Theresa May, who is soon to step down as prime minister.
He said of the panel’s general approach: “We were surprised really at the depth of the decline in further education [funding] and the relative underinvestment in that sector compared with those who are experiencing higher education.
“So we’re talking here about what we call ‘the other 50 per cent’ and the vast majority of adults out there in the population who don’t have a degree and who may want to go back into further education later in their life. That was the group we focused on initially.
“When we came to look at higher education we then started to think of ways [in which] the two parts of the sector might work together. But the thrust of the report was on the other 50 per cent.”
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