Funding reforms are ‘very dangerous’, parliamentary committee hears

The head of the Sutton Trust has told a cross-party group of MPs that the government’s higher education reforms are “totally out of line” with the rest of the world.

May 3, 2011

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the charity that promotes fair access to higher education, said that a “dangerous situation” was being created by the higher tuition fees cap set to come into effect at English institutions from 2012.

Students from poorer backgrounds would be deterred from going to university, while many institutions would also struggle, he said.

He also told the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee that the Office for Fair Access was “not independent” enough and needed to be “beefed up” if it was to succeed in its core mission.

Giving evidence to the committee’s Future of Higher Education inquiry, Sir Peter said that although many graduates would not repay their student loans in full, in his view the money borrowed still represented a “real debt”.

As a result, the high level of tuition fees would have a detrimental effect on participation, he predicted, as graduates would leave university with debts far in excess of those seen in most other countries, including the US.

“I think we’re totally out of line with the rest of the advanced world here. I think it is a very dangerous situation,” he said.

Sir Peter added: “Recruiting universities getting kids in from poorer backgrounds are really going to struggle in this new environment because we’ve cut the teaching grant.

“I think the Liverpool John Moores and [London] South Banks of this world will find it very difficult to survive.”

Asked for his views on the current role of the Office for Fair Access in approving universities’ proposals for helping poorer students, he said: “If you’re serious about Offa it’s got to be an independent body, it’s got to be beefed up, and it’s got to have an independent board.”

He said that in its current form, Offa provided “virtually no deterrent at all” to universities wishing to charge fees of up to £9,000 a year for home and EU students.

Sir Peter also sparked a heated debate in the hearing when he referred to survey evidence that many state school teachers were failing to encourage bright children to apply to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

“There is a huge amount of resentment against Oxford and Cambridge out there among the teachers. Their perception is that it is an elitist place that only privately educated kids go to,” he said.

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