Let's not do this again in a year or two, Browne says

March 24, 2011

Lord Browne of Madingley would feel "sad as a citizen" if the higher education system needed changing again in two or three years because it was deemed unsustainable.

The author of last year's landmark review of higher education funding told a cross-party panel of MPs that the system he proposed had been designed to be cost-effective for the public purse, and it remained to be seen if the government's policy would achieve that goal.

Lord Browne, who appeared before the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee on 22 March, said he would wait for the forthcoming White Paper on higher education before making a judgement on the coalition's response to his recommendations.

But he added: "It is not right to have a system that can work for a couple of years and then we (have to) do it all over again.

"I would be sad, as a citizen, to see a system that was not sustainable for the future."

The peer, who was appearing before the committee's first evidence session in its wide-ranging inquiry into the government's higher education policy, also said that a tuition- fee cap meant that universities tended to migrate towards that level.

So far, almost all of the universities that have publicly announced their fee levels for 2012 plan to charge £9,000 a year.

The Browne Review had proposed that there should be no hard cap on fees, with prices instead controlled by an increasing levy on institutions charging above £6,000 a year.

"By having a cap, most people would agree that people tend to migrate towards it. If you do not have a cap, it is a very different decision-making process," the peer said.

Lord Browne was also pressed on claims, first reported by Times Higher Education, that the review "underspent" on research, with the majority of funding going towards a single opinion survey.

He said that the review would not have spent more, even if it had been aware more money was available, and had relied on a lot of secondary research as it seemed to be an efficient use of public resources.

simon.baker@tsleducation.com.

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