Toni Pearce was speaking yesterday at a fringe event at the Labour conference in Manchester.
Labour is considering unveiling an election pledge to lower fees to £6,000. But it appears to have dropped plans to announce the policy at its conference, as internal debate over how to fund the policy continues.
“This market has failed not just students…but the financial sustainability of our whole sector,” Ms Pearce said of the current system.
She told the event, hosted by the NUS and Million+: “I would really like to come to these conferences, [four] years on from the Browne review of higher education funding…and talk to you about teaching and learning and quality, and the things that students experience every day on their campuses.”
But, Ms Pearce continued: “I’m so tired of having to come back every year and have technical conversations about the loan book, about [loan write-off costs], about how you tinker with the system to make it slightly less worse for students and taxpayers.”
She said the past four years had seen “radical reform” from the coalition government. “The onus is on the Labour party now to give us an alternative,” she said.
Ms Pearce said that the Scottish referendum campaign showed young people are engaged in politics and “they do want to vote. We will get them out to vote.”
She added: “But the reality is we need to give them something to vote for. I’m really excited about the prospect of a fundamental shift and radical reform of the way higher education is funded and delivered…I really, really hope that’s the deal Labour will offer to universities and students.”
Michael Gunn, vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University and chair of Million+, said Labour had been listening to universities.
“But we do need clarity on its policies,” he said. “It would be useful to know, sometime soon, which way Labour is going to go on funding.
“We also need a bit of passion about higher education. We’ve had four years of students and graduates being told…they pick up more of the tab, while private colleges, many of them for-profit, have been allowed to expand, unregulated, at taxpayers’ expense.”