Launching its “manifesto for universities” on 25 February, Million+ warned against any plans for variable tuition fee loans for different universities.
Under a scheme believed to have been under consideration by policymakers, some universities would be able to charge additional fees above £9,000 by providing a “top-up” loan themselves.
It was viewed favourably by the former universities and science minister David Willetts, who had argued that institutions with high-earning graduates should be free to charge higher fees as their alumni are more likely to pay back any money borrowed in full. Universities would be liable for any sums they failed to recover from students, he said.
However, Million+ says that any “market-based systems which remove the link between the maximum fee which can be charged and the government fee loan” would have damaging effects on the sector.
A system that “allow[s] institutions to charge additional fees based on a university-backed fee loan, will create further inequity in the unit of resource”, the group says.
The manifesto also calls on the government taking power after May’s general election to “amend current legislation to further regulate the role of alternative providers in England, including their access to student loan funding”.
It also says that ministers should “review the criteria by which university title is awarded”, saying the title “has previously been hard won and much-prized”.
This process – as well as “UK-wide quality assurance systems” – had underwritten the UK’s reputation for higher education over the years, the group says.
It also calls on the next government to promote participation in higher education, expand the research budget and provide more direct investment in higher education to “promote a world-class rather than a two-tier university system”.
“Supporting more people to study for a degree and ensuring that all universities are funded to develop research capacity and translational research are some of the best investments that any government can make,” said Michael Gunn, vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University and chair of Million+.
He added that most politicians drew mainly from their own experience of higher education, which tended to involve studying for three- or four-year full-time degree at a highly selective university after A levels.
“This is a much narrower experience than the majority of graduates, a third of whom progress to university when they are over 21,” said Professor Gunn.
Million+ also called for the visa regulations for international students to be amended and for overseas students to be removed from the government’s net migration figures.