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'Underwhelming': Students react to higher education review's recommendations including tuition fee cut

PUBLISHED: 13:18 31 May 2019 | UPDATED: 13:42 31 May 2019

Students in Norfolk react to the Augar Review (clockwise from top left) City College Norwich student Luke Mitchell, UEASU officer Sophie Atherton, City College Norwich student Gracie Fisher and UEASU officer Jenna Chapman. Picture: Jeanette Bolton-Martin/City College Norwich

Students in Norfolk react to the Augar Review (clockwise from top left) City College Norwich student Luke Mitchell, UEASU officer Sophie Atherton, City College Norwich student Gracie Fisher and UEASU officer Jenna Chapman. Picture: Jeanette Bolton-Martin/City College Norwich

Jeanette Bolton-Martin/City College Norwich

Prospective and past university students in Norfolk have revealed mixed feelings about recommendations to slash university tuition fees by more than £2,500.

Led by Dr Philip Augar, the review also recommended that student loans be renamed to "contributions", that the period over which students pay them off be extended from 30 to 40 years, and that maintenance grants to help disadvantaged students be reintroduced.

We asked students and higher education leaders in Norfolk what they thought of the recommendations set out by the review panel.

The prospective students' view

Luke Mitchell, president of City College Norwich's student union and a National Union of Students member, took part in consultations which helped to inform the Augar Review and its recommondations. Picture: City College NorwichLuke Mitchell, president of City College Norwich's student union and a National Union of Students member, took part in consultations which helped to inform the Augar Review and its recommondations. Picture: City College Norwich

Three students from City College Norwich have given their thoughts on the recommendations to slash tuition fees and bring back maintenance grants - with one saying the cost of university had already affected her choices.

Piers Luxford, 20, from Diss, is on the first year of a level three (A-level equivalent) general engineering apprenticeship. His is not planning to go to university, but is interesting in studying a degree level course after his apprenticeship.

He said: "I think the current university fees are high and the recommended reduction is still a lot of money, but I think that reintroducing the maintenance grant will help so I don't know why they were scrapped.

Gracie Fisher, a City College Norwich student from Attleborough, said current university tuition fees were Gracie Fisher, a City College Norwich student from Attleborough, said current university tuition fees were "ridiculously high". Picture: City College Norwich

"For me, studying a higher or degree apprenticeship that lets me get paid to work whilst studying a degree level course sounds like a better option."

Gracie Fisher, 26, from Attleborough, is studying access to higher education: science for health practitioners and will be starting a midwifery degree at the University of East Anglia in September.

She said: "The current university fees are ridiculously high and the associated living costs have definitely impacted my decision to study closer to home.

Sophie Atherton, University of East Anglia Students' Union (UEASU) campaigns and democracy officer, said the proposals in the Augar Review was Sophie Atherton, University of East Anglia Students' Union (UEASU) campaigns and democracy officer, said the proposals in the Augar Review was "underwhelming". Picture: Jeanette Bolton-Martin

"I think the recommended changes are a good thing as I think that students would be more likely to pay their loans off which would help the government to invest in helping future generations.

"I think the reintroduction of a maintenance grant is a good idea but is it realistic for the government to do this?"

Luke Mitchell, 20, from Norwich, is president of the college's study union and a member of the National Union of Students' FE (further education) zone committee. He took part in the student consultation meetings which helped inform the Augar Review and its recommendations.

Jenna Chapman, University of East Anglia Students' Union (UEASU) undergraduate education officer, was concerned with some of the Augar Review's recommendations. Picture: Jeanette Bolton-MartinJenna Chapman, University of East Anglia Students' Union (UEASU) undergraduate education officer, was concerned with some of the Augar Review's recommendations. Picture: Jeanette Bolton-Martin

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He said: "I think the current high fees can be quite daunting for students and the overall debt that they could be left with does put some off going to university.

"Personally, I think that the recommended reduction in tuition fees isn't necessarily a good thing because it will mean that students will have an extra 10 years of gaining interest on their loans before the debt is paid off.

Norwich City College deputy principal Jerry White. Picture: Keith WhitmoreNorwich City College deputy principal Jerry White. Picture: Keith Whitmore

"However, the recommendations in the wider report will allow more adults to train for new careers and gain the qualifications they need to start university level courses which is fantastic."

The graduates' view

Sophie Atherton, University of East Anglia Students' Union (UEASU) campaigns and democracy officer, said: "Students will welcome any cut to tuition fees but the recommendations are very much on the underwhelming side.

"Alongside this, the recommendation to cynically rebrand loans to 'individual contributions' recognises that debt is a significant barrier to participation in higher education but does nothing to address the source of the problem.

"Telling us that we can fix the massive problem of student debt by calling it a different name is frankly, insulting."

Jenna Chapman, undergraduate education officer, said: "I am very concerned with the recommendation to increase the time frame of repayment of loans by 10 years. The longer it takes for someone to repay a debt, the more they will pay back in total.

"Because student loan repayments are linked to earnings it means those graduates who earn less will end up paying more back than those on higher wages. This is clearly regressive and would be a highly damaging move."

The higher education leaders' view

Jerry White is deputy principal at City College Norwich and vice chairman of the Mixed Economy Group, the national body for colleges with large numbers of higher education students.

"We are pleased to see that the Augar Review has recommended a variety of ways to ensure that technical and professional education receives the support it needs in a way that complements investment in to university level study," he said.

"We understand the importance of ensuring that students of all ages and from all backgrounds are able to access courses that will help prepare them for their future lives. Because of this, we particularly welcome the recommendations to invest £1bn in funding for equipment and buildings and to remove the funding cut from 18-year-olds which costs our college £500,000 per year."

Prof John Last, vice chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts, said the university would carefully consider the report's recommendations and indications from government about future higher education policy.

"However, we maintain that the political and tabloid narrative around the creative arts and low value is misleading - and overlooks the international success of the UK's creative industries, which contribute more than £100bn a year to the economy and rely on a pipeline of well-qualified graduates," he said.

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