Loans to students taking higher technical training should “reflect or begin to compete” with those offered to university students to address the “imbalance” between further and higher education funding, a conference has heard.
This is the view of Nick Boles, the minister of state for skills, who made the comment at the Association of Colleges’ annual conference.
Mr Boles was responding to a question from Andy Forbes, principal of the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London, who asked if he sympathised with the sector about funding discrepancies – in light of the fact that further education was looking to take the lead on higher technical and professional education – and whether he thought this “imbalance” would have to be addressed.
The minister replied that because students were still applying to university despite the introduction of £9,000 tuition fees – which he called one of the “great successes of the tuition fee reform” – he would be hoping to see a move towards “parity” in the loans offered to those students who did not want to go down the three- or four-year residential degree route.
He added that it was something about which he would be appealing to the Treasury.
“What I think we need to do is ensure that the position on loans that fund higher-level courses for people who don’t want to go to university but do want to get that higher technical training, as closely as possible reflects or begins to compete with the offer of student loans for university students,” he said. “I hope that’s something the chancellor will be addressing, to an extent, in the spending review.
“I don’t want to hold that prospect that we’re going to have complete parity immediately, but at least on the loans side, if we can get closer to parity that may begin to make a difference.”
Speaking earlier in the conference, Baroness Wolf of Dulwich, professor of public sector management at King’s College London and author of the report Heading for the Precipice: Can Further and Higher Education Funding Policies Be Sustained?, said that our system of providing tertiary education was an example of “English exceptionalism” and was an “extremely unusual pattern” in comparison with other countries.
“One-size-only tertiary provision is extremely unusual,” she said. “We have universities, universities, universities.
“And what’s really extraordinary about this country is that we now have huge levels of participation which show every sign of going further up, especially with recent HE policy, and yet that they’re all institutions which are, in structural terms, the same.
“[Besides] the tiny exception of those doing HE in FE, basically everybody is in a standard university which offers all levels of qualification and which is funded on a comparable level. We are trying to do this with a single and very expensive model in institutions which all have exactly the same calls on public subsidy.”