The think-tank Reform has released a report which states that the country’s university system would be far better if the cap on tuition fees was scrapped.
The report, entitled ‘The Mobile Economy’, was launched late last month by David Willets, the Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills.
Suggestions within the report include taking the budget for post-18 education, currently £9.6 billion a year, and using it to set up Individual Education Accounts. This would give each young person £13,000 to use toward their education. There would also be plans for a student loans system but the initial £13,000 would not be means tested.
The report also recommends the complete removal of all limits on tuition fees, thereby giving universities free rein to charge whatever fees they like, to whatever height they like.
The report claims that British universities need “genuine independence” in order to compete on an international scale. For them to gain this they need the freedom of “independent decision-making over fees, student numbers, curriculum, and staffing and capital investment”. This, the report states, justifies the removal of the current £3,000 tuition fee limit.
It also argues that higher fees will give students the responsibility of choosing a course that will be right for them and “an incentive to ensure that their courses are high quality.” This, the writers of the report say, will lead to higher education institutions raising the standards of the courses they offer.
Nick Vose, the Chair of the Lancaster branch of Conservative Future, told SCAN he believes“the policy that is being considered is one that will open up choice in universities by providing competition as each university will seek to offer a better course for less money. In the long term, overall fees could go down.”
However, the President of the National Union of Students, Wes Streeting, disagrees with this sentiment. He said: “Against the current economic backdrop, it would be extremely foolish to trust the provision of any major public service entirely to the market. These proposals would put the long-term security of thousands of vital courses serving our most deprived communities in jeopardy. They would confine the vast majority to a utilitarian education system based on weighing up financial risk.”
The Reform report comes off the back of the NUS launching its new campaign, ‘Broke & Broken’. The campaign is based on the NUS’ own report into the current state of student finances.
The Conservatives have been quick to play down the link between the Reform report and their party, especially in light of the infamous Policy Exchange, ‘northern cities’ report over the summer. A spokesperson for the party said that it did not endorse the findings of the report and they do not represent the party’s policies. The Government is due to review the tuition fee limit in 2009 and the subject is likely to be hotly debated at the next general election.