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Vice-Chancellor responds to Augar report

colour portrait photograph of Vice Chancellor Robert Van der Noort

Last year the Prime Minister Theresa May announced a major review of the funding and structure of the higher education sector, led by Philip Augar.

The report was published today, and contains a series of recommendations designed to improve aspects of choice, value for money and access for students, as well as skills provision for the economy and a wider review of technical education.

The recommendations, for students beginning courses in 2021/22, include:

  • A cut in student fees from £9,250 to £7,500, with proposals for increasing the government-provided Teaching Grant for more resource-intensive courses
  • The reintroduction of maintenance grants for socio-economically disadvantaged students
  • Lifelong student finance entitlement covering both further and higher education
  • Changes to loan repayments, including a lower threshold for graduate earnings for repayment and a lengthening of the repayment window to 40 year. Proposals also include reducing students’ in-study interest charges and a cap on total payments for current and future borrowers
  • Withdrawing student financial support for foundation years attached to degree courses
  • Recommendations on part-time, credit transfer and other measures to support lifelong learning.

I welcome the report’s focus on supporting students and encouraging participation in higher and further education for people of all backgrounds and at different stages in life. There are some aspects of the report that we need to examine in more detail, and clearly we must wait to see how the government chooses to respond to the recommendations in order to fully understand the implications for us.

Universities UK, which represents the HE sector, has estimated that the tuition fee cut would cost the sector £1.8 billion unless made up in full by central government funding. Any shortfall could have implications on provision of courses and student services. So it is positive the report specifically reinforces the need for an increased Teaching Grant.

There are also potential flow-on repercussions on regional economies, given that universities have an important role their local economic landscape. Our own recent research has shown that the University of Reading contributes £420 million to the Thames Valley and supports 1 in 26 of all the jobs in the area, as well as aiding the social and cultural life of the region.

What does this mean for Reading?

You will be aware of the current consultation on the future strategy for the University, which is framed around priorities of community, excellence, sustainability and engagement. I am pleased that today’s report supports a view of universities that recognises these broad values.

Colleagues across the University are now working to examine the detail of today’s report and any responses provided by the UK government and others, before any further recommendations are made on how we need to respond to the proposals.

I intend to advocate for the University on this issue at a local and national level, and I look forward to speaking and working with many of you about this in the near future.

PROFESSOR ROBERT VAN DE NOORT

Vice-Chancellor

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