University participation will fall if fees rise

The papers today cover rises in higher education participation. But the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that any fee increase would reduce participation.

The papers today cover a new report by the Higher Education Funding Council for England on university attendance. Also released today is a less widely covered report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies which shows that any increase in fees would reduce university participation.

The BBC reports that “More youngsters from poor homes go to university” while the Telegraph shows that, “Women are almost 25 per cent more likely to get into university as the gender gap in education widens, according to figures.”

But this good news is offset by a warning from the IFS which outlines that:

“The [2003/04] reforms had no overall impact on HE participation at age 18 or 19 in England. But grants, fees and loans do impact on participation and in different ways:

“A £1000 increase in fees has a negative impact on participation of around 4.4 percentage points (compared to an age 18/19 participation rate of around 1 in 5). This outweighs the positive impact of a £1000 increase in loans (3.2 percentage points) or grants (2.1 percentage points). Thus, increasing fees without increasing loans and/or grants by the same value or more, will result in a negative impact on participation.”

The Times this morning reported that “Universities are pushing for tuition fee rise” but Stefan Baskerville, president of the Oxford University Student Union told Left Foot Forward:

“Despite the cavalier attitude of many universities to raising tuition fees, the IFS report shows that an increase in fees negatively impacts on participation in higher education, even if loans are increased accordingly. In order to offset the negative effects of increased fees, the government would need to raise both loans and grants by more than fees increase. This is clearly unrealistic in the current fiscal climate, and that’s why the Government should consider alternatives to fee hikes such as a graduate tax, so that higher education is funded fairly and sustainably.”

Yesterday, the University and College Union reacted angrily to new figures on the award of maintenance grants. General Secretary Sally Hunt, said:

“Today’s figures mean more misery for the thousands of students hit by punitive changes to the grant system and for their parents who are struggling to get by and support their offspring in these tough economic times.

“We were particularly alarmed by the sharp drop in the number of students awarded a full grant. We do not believe the drop is consistent with the number of students applying to university from poorer backgrounds. The SLC and the government must urgently investigate if the students who most need financial support are the ones missing out.”

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