Post-Graduate: The new access frontier

Shadow Universities Minister Liam Byrne MP, lays out 21st Century university reform debate 

Post-Graduate: The new access frontier

Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills, Liam Byrne MP, sets out options for reform of Britain’s universities to boost the country’s knowledge economy and open high paying technical and professional jobs to the forgotten 50 per cent’ in his new pamphlet Robbins Rebooted, published by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) think tank on Thursday 28 August.

The options draw together hundreds of conversations Byrne organised with university and college leaders, academics and students over the last six months in Britain, Europe, India and China. Invoking the white heat’ message of Harold Wilson’s government, elected 50 years ago this year, Byrne argues that reformed universities are now key to fostering more high paid jobs in the light speed’ global digital economy.

For the first time Byrne outlines the big five’ ideas which university and college leaders, students, teachers and researchers want to hear debated:

  1. Technical Universities’, a collaboration of employers, major university science and engineering departments and colleges, offering students the chance to study a new earn while you learn’ Technical Degree’
  2. A revolution in links between colleges and universities based on the US-style community college movement. 
  3. Reform of research funding to support British universities in creating global Star Alliances’ of the world’s best scientists with longer term research support. 
  4. A big increase in university enterprise zones to better link universities to regional growth.
  5. A new revolution in access to higher education, with a new national advice service to support young people into higher academic and technical education, support for university-school trusts, an expansion of the Open University’s Massive Open Online Courses and a new partnership between the Workers’ Education Association and UnionLearn.

Reflecting upon postgraduate education, Liam Byrne MP said (in the report):

We have to recognise that if we are indeed to stay ahead of the global game, then more of our citizens will need to study to a post-graduate level. Many in the university system were surprised by the government’s decision to invest the proceeds of university loan sales in uncapping”numbers, especially as the Government appeared to double count the number of places needed.”

Most Vice-Chancellors and students tell me that much more important to them is a proper system of postgraduate loan support. Indeed, on my tours of various campuses, a postgraduate loan system consistently comes out as the second most important priority after cutting the headline undergrad fees cap. As one student in Leeds put it to me:

Everyone has got a degree. If we’re really going to distinguish ourselves in the labour market, you now need a masters.”

According to the University Alliance, half of post-graduate students and 2/3 of part-time undergraduates cannot currently access loans, whilst two thirds of students feel that access to a student loan would make them more likely to study for a post-graduate qualification.Vice-chancellors tend to agree; expanding post-graduate research and teaching is seen as key to maintaining global competitiveness of UK universities and naturally most vice-chancellors both want their cake and to eat it; a loan system without any caps on the price of the courses.”

So, assuming this problem is not resolved before the election (I hear rumours it may be resolved in the Autumn Statement), this must be a priority for an incoming government to review. Two bodies — University Alliance and the IPPR – have made proposals in this area.”

The IPPR’s baseline” model is compelling; taught masters students able to borrow £10,000 for tuition fees, repaid at 9% on earnings between £15-£21,000, with a standard range of interest rates between 0 and 3pc and made available to 47,081 full time students and another 24k part-timers.With HEFCE on the hook for a £103M teaching subsidy, this would require £44M in loan subsidy and bring into universities over £1 billion in tuition fees and HEFCE grants.”

University Alliance offer an important alternative; a lifetime loan allocation that would include eligibility for post-grads. They propose protection for the lowest earners, but have set-out ways in which surcharges and changes to threshold rates could offer a much faster payback regime and lower RAB charge. These proposals are set-out in a very comprehensive paper that examines the lessons to be learnt from the Australian system.”

Both ideas will, funds permitting given the crisis in the wider student funding system, need to be given serious consideration by an incoming HE minister in 2015.”

Full Report: Link here

Link to IPPR’s Report

University Alliance report