A review of higher education funding in England is likely to result in tuition fees being reduced for arts and social science degrees which offer lower graduate earnings, the education secretary has signalled.
In an interview with The Sunday Times ahead of the launch of the review on 19 February, Damian Hinds said that fee levels should be determined by “a combination of three things: the cost [to the university] to put it on, the benefit to the student and the benefit to our country and our economy”.
“We have a system where you have got almost all institutions and almost all courses at those institutions charging exactly the same price,” Mr Hinds said.
“Some have higher returns to the student than others. It’s right that we now ask questions about how that system operates. I would like to see options available which have different costs.”
Mr Hinds said that fees would not increase beyond the current maximum of £9,250 and, if additional funding was needed for science and engineering courses, which are typically more expensive to run, this might come in the form of additional government subsidy.
Mr Hinds indicated that the review could also lead to a cut in the interest rate on student loans, which was criticised in a report by the Commons Treasury Committee, published on 18 February.
Other options that the review will explore are a reduction in the number of years over which graduates are expected to repay their loan, and a rise in the salary threshold at which they start making repayments.
The review has been triggered in part by Conservative concern over the popularity among young voters of Labour’s pledge to abolish tuition fees. But Mr Hinds said that students would still be expected to contribute to the cost of their education.
“There are only two types of people who can contribute to the cost of university degrees: the people who have benefited from them and the people who haven’t,” he said. “We think it’s right that if you benefit from a university degree you should contribute towards its cost.”