‘Time for more top-up fees’

By politics.co.uk staff

The government should raise the cap on top-up fees to help universities cope with higher education spending cuts, according to a Policy Exchange report out today.

The thinktank is calling for the drastic step as the only response to a sector where vice chancellors are considering scrapping departments and increasing the numbers of foreign students.

The Universities and Colleges Union has warned that 15,000 jobs are at risk if Peter Mandelson goes ahead with his proposed £135 million cut in spending on higher education next year.

Today’s report from Policy Exchange suggests one route out of this crisis could be to raise the cap on top-up fees, which currently stands at £3,225.

“The government mustn’t attempt to use fees as a substitute for the public investment that supports a sector that is of real economic and societal value,” report author Anna Fazackerley said.

“But it is right that graduates who benefit from higher education should have to contribute to its costs.”

The government’s total student loan debt is expected to rise to £55 billion by 2018, meaning an increase in top-up fees would require the introduction of a targeted, regulated private loans scheme.

Ministers must also strike a deal with universities to ensure more investment in teaching and the poorest students must stay protected, the report insists.

With these provisos covered, the report argues the “grim” future of Britain’s universities may be improved.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers attacked the report for attempting to turn higher education into a “pure market system”.

“Policy Exchange has taken attempts to turn higher education into an up-market employment bureau a step further,” its head of pay, pensions and conditions, Martin Freedman, said.

“Of course, we need an intelligent debate about the future funding of HE, especially given the current constraints on public finances.

“But their proposals to make HE a pure market system, with students paying to be turned into employable adults and higher charges for the wealthier is not that debate.

“Undeterred by the debacles over education maintenance allowances and student loans, Policy Exchange proposes a private loan scheme that is likely to put students into debt.”