Two-year degrees: sector’s £11K cap concerns could undermine plan

Government pressing ahead with English legislation – despite majority of responses to its own consultation giving thumbs down to planned fee cap

January 28, 2019
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Government legislation to raise annual tuition fees to £11,100 for two-year degrees in England is going ahead despite ministers being told by consultation respondents that the increased cap would not incentivise provision, prompting observers to suggest that the plan will not be a “game changer”.

After secondary legislation to raise the cap for two-year degrees was passed by the House of Commons, universities minister Chris Skidmore wrote for Times Higher Education: “Providing students with greater choice is paramount. By changing the fee cap for accelerated degrees, we are making this happen and offering greater freedom and flexibility for all.”

But by pressing ahead with the plans – which could deliver savings for the government by reducing tuition fee and maintenance loan outlay – the government appears to be going against the majority views of respondents to its consultation late last year.

On the question of whether an £11,100 fee cap “is the right amount to incentivise wider provision of accelerated degrees”, just 31 per cent of respondents said “yes”, while 57.5 per cent of respondents said “no” and 11.5 per cent did not answer.

The Department for Education said in its analysis of the submissions that “responses indicate sufficient agreement with the incentivising impact of the 20 per cent uplift/savings to support the government’s intentions to legislate for this increase”.

But in another section of the document, the department acknowledged that there was “a divergence of views on the principle and impacts of accelerated degrees, particularly from providers not currently offering accelerated degrees”.

Thirty-two per cent of consultation responses were from universities, 24 per cent from sector or business bodies and 9 per cent from alternative providers.

The Russell Group said in its consultation response that a 20 per cent uplift “may not be sufficient to ensure the financial viability of accelerated provision, particularly for some higher cost courses. In addition, the lack of evidence of significant levels of student demand for accelerated programmes also makes it difficult to assess their viability.”

The Russell Group also warned that there was a “risk that the pressure of study on an accelerated degree programme will reduce a student’s opportunities to engage in supported independent study and participate in a broad programme of developmental activities”.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said it was “great that the two-year degree idea has passed the Commons, as it will offer more choice and more opportunities to potential students”.

But he doubted that it was a “game changer”, partly because “for really large numbers of places to come on stream, traditional universities would need to think there was sufficient new resource available to put the staff in place to make it work – and the jury is out on that”.

Gordon Marsden, Labour’s shadow higher education minister, said Labour – which voted against the fee uplift – supported existing two-year degrees but did not believe that the new plan would “bring the benefits…to students that the minister says it will”.

He added that an £11,100 fee cap could “potentially have an impact on less well-off students’ willingness to take…these courses”.

“We also think this is a continuation of [former universities minister] Jo Johnson’s market-led vision” aimed at creating a “rapid expansion of new providers that can charge high fees on two-year degrees”, he added.

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

How will they compress three years of study effectively into two? Will it involve a fourth term? Will it mean, despite the enhanced fee, tuition by more and more non-permanent academic staff?

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