Student fees are set to rise to between £6000 and £9000 per year from 2012 (see Will students be Browned off?. But I’m sure you know that already! Not surprisingly, there has been considerable debate about the effects on student debt and whether potential students will be put off from applying to university. But there is another issue, explored in the article below. This is the question of the ‘marketisation’ of higher education.
With the exception of the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) universities will no longer receive any teaching subsidy from the government. Teaching will have to be funded from student fees. This means that provision will depend on supply and demand. If there is a high demand for certain courses, then the courses will be financially viable for universities. If not, they will have to close (unless the university chooses to cross-subsidise them from other profitable courses).
This might be fine if the market for university places were perfectly competitive and if questions of inequality of access were fully taken into account. But the higher education market is not perfect. The article looks at some of these imperfections and why, therefore, a pure market system will fail to achieve the optimum allocation of university places.
Browne’s Gamble London Review of Books, Stefan Collini (4/11/10)
- What information failures are there in the market for higher education places?
- What externalities are involved in higher education and will this lead to an over or underprovision of higher education in a pure market system?
- Apart from externalities and information asymmetries, what other market failures apply to the market for student places in HE?
- What are the arguments for subsidising non-STEM subjects (as well as STEM ones)? Should these subsidies vary from course to course and from university to university?
- What is the best way of tackling the problem of unequal access to higher education?
Lord Browne of Madingley, the former chief executive of BP, has been conducting a review of higher education and its funding in England. The report was published on Tuesday 12 October. At present, student fees are capped at £3290 per year. From the academic year 2012/13 Browne recommends that the cap be removed, allowing universities to charge what they like (or what the market will bear). It is anticipated that, under these circumstances, universities would typically charge around £7000 per year, but some universities could charge much more – perhaps more than £12,000 for courses in high demand at prestigious universities. Universities would receive reduced funding from the government, through a new Higher Education Council, and the funding would vary by subject, with ‘priority’ subjects, such as science, technology and medicine, being given more. It is anticipated that total government funding for teaching to universities in England would be only just over 20% of the current level.
Browne recommends that universities that charge more than £6000 a year would have to pay a proportion of the extra income to the government as a levy for supporting poorer students. Those that charge more than £7000 would have to demonstrate that they were widening access.
Students would not need to pay any of the fees upfront (although they could do if they chose). Instead, they would receive a loan to cover the full fee. They would also be eligible for an annual loan of £3750 to cover living expenses. In addition, students from households with incomes below £25,000 would be eligible for a cost-of-living grant of £3250 on top of the loan. with household incomes above £25,000 the size of this grant would diminish, and disappear with household incomes above £60,000.
Students would begin paying back their loan after they graduate and are earning more then £21,000 per year (the current figure is £15,000). The amount that graduates would be required to pay back would rise sharply as earnings increase. For example, with an income of £30,000 per year, the graduate would be required to pay back £68 per month; with an income of £60,000 the monthly payment would be £293. Interest would accumulate on the unpaid balance at a rate equal to inflation plus 2.2%. For those earning below £21,000 threshold, it would accumulate at the rate of inflation only.
Not surprisingly, there have been mixed reactions to the recommendations from universities. Some universities have argued that competition will mean that they would not be allowed to charge the approximately £7000 fee that would be necessary to make up for the reduction in direct government funding. Predictions of closures of university departments or closures or mergers of whole universities are being made. Other universities have welcomed the ability to charge significantly higher fees to help their financial position.
The reactions from prospective students have been less mixed. With students starting in 2012 set to graduate with debts in excess of £30,000 and many with much higher debts, the Browne Review report makes bleak reading.
So who are the gainers and losers and what will be the benefits to higher education? The following articles look at the issues.
Note that the government has subsequently decided not to follow Browne’s recommendations fully. Annual fees will be capped at £9000 and the government expects that fees will typically be £6000.
Lord of the market: let competition and choice drive quality Times Higher Education, Simon Baker (14/10/10)
In the shake-up to come, no guarantees for anyone Times Higher Education (14/10/10)
Browne review: Universities must set their own tuition fees Guardian, Jeevan Vasagar and Jessica Shepherd (12/10/10)
Cable ‘endorses’ tuition fee increase plan BBC News (12/10/10)
Browne review at a glance Guardian, Jessica Shepherd (12/10/10)
Foolish, risky, lazy, complacent and dangerous NUS news, Aaron Porter (12/10/10)
Student debt: the £40k question for Lord Browne (includes two videos) Channel 4 News, Aaron Porter (8/10/10)
Blind spots in education proposals Financial Times letters, Philip Wales (14/10/10)
Tuition fees: securing a future for elitism Guardian, comment is free, Carole Leathwood (13/10/10)
NUS Scotland president Liam Burns condemns English tuition fee plans Courier (13/10/10)
Lord Browne review: round-up of reaction Telegraph (12/10/10)
University of Leeds responds to Lord Browne’s review of university funding Academia News (12/10/10)
Browne Review: Scrap university fees cap Chemistry World (12/10/10)
Invisible hand of market takes hold Financial Times (12/10/10)
A personal perspective on the Browne Review Progress Online, David Hall (12/10/10)
Tuition fee increases will be capped, says Nick Clegg BBC News (24/10/10)
Webcasts and podcasts
Students to face ‘unlimited fees’ BBC News, Nick Robinson (12/10/10)
Lord Browne interviewed by Nick Robinson BBC News (12/10/10)
Aaron Porter and Steve Smith on university funding and fees BBC Daily Politics (12/10/10)
University proposals create ‘two-tier system’ BBC Today Programme, Professors Roger Brown and Nicholas Barr (13/10/10)
The report and the NUS and IFS responses
Securing a sustainable future for higher education Independent Review (12/10/10)
Browne Review home page Independent Review
Initial Response to the Report of the Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance (the Browne Review) NUS, Aaron Porter (10/10/10)
Graduates and universities share burden of Browne recommendations Institute for Fiscal Studies (12/10/10)
- To what extent will the proposals in the Browne review result in a free market in university courses?
- To what extent will competition between universities drive up teaching quality?
- Identify any market failures that might prevent an efficient allocation of university resources?
- To what extent will Browne’s proposals result in a fair allocation of resources between graduates and non-graduates, and between those who graduate under the new system and those who graduated in the past?
- Identify any externalities involved in university education. In what ways might these externalities be ‘internalised’?