The chancellor, Sajid Javid, failed to mention the review of English post-18 education in his spending review, offering further confirmation that the panel’s plan to lower tuition fees to £7,500 appears to be dead.
The review panel, led by Philip Augar, reported in May, after the review was personally set up by Theresa May, the previous prime minister. Its key recommendation on higher education was to lower the fee cap from £9,250 to £7,500, with full replacement public funding provided so the average unit of resource was maintained – but with that funding directed towards higher cost subjects or those deemed to have greater “social or economic value”. The plan sparked fears of funding cuts among universities.
Sector sources this week said that they had been told by figures in the new Boris Johnson government that the Augar fee plan would not be taken forward.
Damian Hinds, then education secretary, had said following the publication of the panel’s report that the government would “conclude the [post-18] review at the spending review”.
However, Mr Javid made no reference to the post-18 review during his presentation of the spending review. Indeed, he made no reference to higher education at all. But he did reiterate the government’s commitment to spend an extra £400 million on further education, which he described as the “forgotten sector” – a shift in priorities that may reflect the Conservatives’ new electoral priorities in working-class, Leave-voting areas.
The reappointment of Jo Johnson as universities and science minister – a vociferous opponent of Ms May’s decision to hold the post-18 review and of the Augar plans on fees – by his brother, the new prime minister, had already suggested that the new government would drop the plans.
The fact that the government now has no majority, and would thus be highly unlikely to be able to pass controversial fees legislation in the Commons, cemented that impression.
Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said that the “rushed spending round” appeared “more like frantic electioneering than a long-term commitment to boosting further and higher education”.
“The funding promised to further education will do little to reverse the cuts of over £3 billion in real terms that have blighted the sector over the past decade,” she said.
“The fact that an additional £2.1 billion has been committed to planning for a no-deal Brexit compared with just £400 million for further education shows where this government’s priorities really lie.”
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