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Higher Education in the UK

Submitted by on 13 Sep 2011 – 16:07

David Willets MP

David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science

Young people in their final year of school or college are now turning their thoughts to university applications. They will be the first cohort to enter HE under the new finance system.

The period since Lord Browne published his Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance has been as productive as it has occasionally been turbulent.

All along, however, the Government has recognised the strong appetite for learning in our country, as well as Britain’s need for highly-skilled graduates and for institutions capable of fulfilling their broad social, intellectual and economic remit.

Our response has tackled three challenges: making university funding sustainable by requiring graduates to make a greater contribution to the cost of their studies; making the interests of these graduates – during their time as students – central to every university’s mission; and increasing social mobility, so that family income or background eventually have no bearing on a person’s chances to benefit from HE.

Under the new, more progressive system, undergraduates, including part-timers, will have their tuition fees paid by government. As graduates, they will only begin to repay loans once they earn £21,000. Those earning more will repay at a faster rate.

The Higher Education White Paper, issued in June, explained how students will move to centre stage, as fees follow them to the institutions they choose. Every university must convince prospective applicants that its teaching arrangements, facilities and support structures represent a worthwhile investment. Applicants will have much more information on which to base their decisions – on accommodation costs, contact time, employment outcomes. Institutions will have to compete with each other more directly to attract students, improving their overall experience as a result.

The average cost of courses in 2012/13 will be around £8,200 – with extra support to students amounting to an average £368 of benefits in the form of bursaries, accommodation vouchers and in-kind support. The White Paper also set out our intention to reallocate 20,000 student places to universities charging less than £7,500 in 2012/13, thereby creating downward pressure on price.

At the same time, we have told all universities charging more than £6,000 a year that they must do more to attracting applicants from poorer backgrounds. We expect to see a major advance in social mobility; university investment in programmes such as summer schools, scholarships and fee waivers will reach more than £600 million annually by 2015.

These reforms, therefore, will maintain the quality and diversity of what is already a world-class HE system – allowing it to compete internationally. Together with the substantial rise in apprenticeships – with more than 100,000 additional places created since May 2010 – the Government is putting the UK on the right path towards educational achievement and economic growth.