The prime minister has called for universities to provide students better value for money, admitting the previous Conservative government’s plans had made English higher education “one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world”.
England has moved in the opposite direction of other Western democracies over the last decade, and tripled the fees for students while other places like Germany and the US have brought down or abolished university fees altogether. Successive Conservative governments have maintained that students should pay for their own university education, while other countries have focused more on the value that a highly educated workforce offers society as a whole.
On Monday, Theresa May announced an independent review of fees and students finances following a series of complaints from students and parents that see the £9,250 as poor value and an unfair burden on young people. The interest rate of 6.1% further exacerbates the issues, with many students charged thousands of pounds of interest on their loans before they finish their course.
May also argued for a change in attitude amongst the public that favour university degrees of technical education, despite the UK facing a shortage of young people going into the trades.
The decision to call for a review demonstrates the prime minister has admitted that there is a problem, but there has been no suggestion from ministers that the government will consider abolishing or radically reducing fees, or replacing the entire system with a graduate tax. Education Secretary Damian Hinds maintains that the solution is more variety in the level of fees universities charge for courses, but has offered no detail in how the government will ensure such a result occurs.
Labour recognised the failure of the current funding system for English universities before the last election and campaigned on the promise of abolishing fees and bringing back maintenance grants, and says it still supports these policy initiatives.