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Increase tuition fees ‘really quickly’ after election, says Stern

Increase tuition fees ‘really quickly’ after election, says Stern

Times Higher Education

Patrick Jack
February 29, 2024
The next Westminster government should act quickly after the general election to make unpopular decisions around higher education funding in England, according to university leaders.
Vivienne Stern, chief executive of Universities UK (UUK), said the current complex funding landscape – as laid out by a series of reports by London Economics – resembles a “puzzle box” that the sector must solve one move at a time.
Speaking at an event organized by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) to analyze the findings of the reports, Ms Stern said the UK’s once “coherent” system has diverged in quite significant ways across the home nations.
“There is a thicket that we have to hack our way out of and the only real way to do that is to understand the often-surprising effects of moving various parts of the system,” she said.
The London Economics reports found that cutting tuition fees by approximately one-third and increasing teaching grants would increase English higher education costs by £3 billion – but that it would be richer graduates who saved money on loan repayments, with the poorest students being in essence unaffected because they are not expected to pay off their loans in full.
Vice-chancellors have indicated support for raising tuition fees but the prospect of doing so in an election year would be “political suicide”, Gavan Conlon, a partner at London Economics, told the event.
Ms Stern said the sector should remove the idea that linking an increase to frozen domestic tuition fees to inflation is increasing them – it is merely stopping them from falling further.
That would allow the next government – whether it was formed by the Conservative Party or Sir Keir Starmer’s ascendant Labour Party – to act.
“I think an incoming government should do that really fast because it won’t be popular but if you get in there and do it quickly, I don’t think it’s going to hurt you by the next election,” added Ms Stern.
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