Augar’s English fee cut plan fails to win over students in poll

Hepi poll finds students show little preference for £7,500 fee above £9,250 status quo, casting doubt on electoral benefit of plan

October 10, 2019
Source: Getty

A poll of students has found no preference for the Augar review’s plan to lower English tuition fees compared with the status quo, suggesting that the Conservatives might not gain any significant electoral reward if they back the change.

The Higher Education Policy Institute, which commissioned the poll and released the results on 10 October, said the finding showed that the Augar plan on higher education funding – which also includes extending the repayment period faced by graduates – “does not persuade the majority of students”.

The government has yet to issue its response to the report from the post-18 education review panel, led by Philip Augar.

Chris Skidmore, the universities minister, told an event at the Conservative Party conference on 30 September that the Augar panel’s recommendation to cut fees could result in a reduction in funding – if the lost fee income were not replaced – and thus in university closures.

However, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said on 3 October when asked about the Augar fees plan: “Nothing in that report has been ditched.”

Hepi commissioned YouthSight to conduct the poll, which took views from 1,078 undergraduates.

The poll found that 40 per cent of respondents preferred the current system of annual tuition fees of £9,250 paid back over 30 years; 41 per cent preferred the Augar plan for £7,500 fees repaid over 40 years; and 18 per cent had no preference between the two.

Hepi’s analysis of the poll says: “If one of the key aims of the [review of post-18 education] was to win over younger voters by offering lower tuition fees, it is clear the recommendation offered in the Augar report does not persuade the majority of students, given the almost even split between them supporting the current system and the Augar recommendation.”

The majority of students (79 per cent) said the level of interest charged was one of the most important aspects of the funding system, compared with only 11 per cent who considered it unimportant and 10 per cent who were unsure, the poll found.

The Augar review also called for the return of maintenance grants. The Hepi poll found that 53 per cent of students backed a mixed system of maintenance grants and loans, while 32 per cent said they would prefer grants only. Just 16 per cent supported the status quo of loans only for maintenance funding.

According to the poll, cost of living was a higher priority for students than tuition fees, with 59 per cent describing it as their top funding concern. Just 18 per cent rated tuition fees as a higher priority than cost of living.

Meanwhile, 52 per cent of students said their parents contributed to their cost of living expenditures, compared with 46 per cent who said their parents did not.

Rachel Hewitt, Hepi’s director of policy and advocacy, said: “With an election potentially around the corner, politicians should take heed of students’ priorities. A winning offer to students may not involve focusing on tuition fees but instead on less headline-grabbing aspects, such as the maintenance system and interest rates.”

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