Student finance image

 by Jon Cheek
, posted On 30 May '19

Are university fees changing? What do schools and students need to know following the Augar Review?

The Augar review into post-18 education and funding has been released – supported by a hefty 216 pages of content and many recommendations. This covers a lot more than fees and funding which I will focus on here, but I will concentrate on the headline areas which students may be asking you (as a teacher or career adviser) when schools return next week.

What do schools and students need to know following the Augar review?

The answer in my opinion just now, is nothing at all (being aware of it is fine). You’ll read lots of headlines today about university fees reducing, the repayment period increasing, the repayment threshold reducing and the prospect of maintenance grants for some students returning.

But – this is document includes recommendations not policy changes. Nothing is changing just yet – and when things do (I think it may be a case of 'when' rather than 'if'), it is anticipated that changes won’t kick in until the 2021-2022 academic year at the very earliest. By my calculations, that means current Year 11 students MAY be the first in the new system. Only new students will be subject to the vast majority of changes rather than existing students (I can see only an interest rate aspect of it, from a quick glance applying retrospectively).

Key recommendations of the Augar review:

Students may benefit from (if implemented):

- Maximum university fees (currently capped at £9,250) falling to £7,500 a year and not increasing until a few years after that. At which time only in line with inflation.

- Interest rates on student loans being reduced (one aspect of that is ultra-complicated) so just consider the reduction as the headline just now.

- Maintenance grants for poorer students (rather than purely loans) being reinstated.

- The term student loan being renamed a student contributions system. Consumer champion Martin Lewis will have been instrumental in that I expect.

Students won’t benefit from the below (if implemented):

- The repayment period for student loans increasing to 40 years from the current 30 years.

- The repayment threshold (when students start paying back their student loans) being cut. The headline is this changing to £23,000 from £25,000 - but as both figures will increase over time, there is a little more to it than that.

What is next?

Quite simply, these recommendations will sit in the 'in-tray' for the new prime minister.

For Year 13 students starting university this year, and Year 12’s next year, I can’t see anything changing at all - as this will impact new students if the recommendations are implemented, and probably by 2021-22 at the earliest.

Final thoughts image

Review after review cites student finance as the biggest barrier to university for students. In our national review of university guidance, 62% of school staff indicated the tuition fee and living expenses were the most prominent reason their students may not be considering university participation. This subject is critically important.

When changes are announced, I would love to see responsibility taken for student finance guidance in schools. It is not for me to say who takes responsibility for it, it is just crucial that the importance of this is acknowledged and an organisation is tasked with it – and that they do a great job so students understand it far better this time around.

But for now – I was delighted to read page 176 of the report that recommends ‘a public engagement campaign to introduce wider changes being made to the student finance system and ensure they are properly understood by students, parents and the media from the beginning’.

For now, it is a case of watching this space until any news of implementation is announced.

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