Tuition fees should be scrapped for poorer students, report suggests
The think tank also suggested that tuition fees could be reduced for students from poorer backgrounds, rather than abolished completely.
A new report has been published which says poorer students should be eligible to pay reduced tuition fees - or even none at all.
While the idea sounds forward-thinking, it's one that was actually in place in England until as recently as 2006. Nonetheless, since being scrapped it's something that many UK students have been fighting to bring back.
The report comes just months after the NUS published its own paper highlighting a so-called 'poverty premium', referring to the additional financial barriers faced by students from poorer backgrounds when accessing education.
How would free tuition for poorer students work?
The report suggests that if the government covered tuition fees for students from poorer backgrounds, young people in this bracket - often (and understandably) the most reluctant to get into debt - would feel that university is a more accessible option for them.
According to the report, this would be a far better system than the current one, whereby most students take out huge loans which gain interest every year and are unlikely to ever be paid back in full.
Most recent graduates only have to pay 9% of their salary above the threshold of £25,000/year, and Student Loan repayments don't start until the April after you leave uni.
Student debts are completely written off after 30 years, and the IFS (the Institute of Fiscal Studies) estimates that 83% of students will have some or all of their debts paid for by the government.
Nonetheless, poorer students tend to come out of university with higher debts - especially since the government scrapped Maintenance Grants and replaced them with additional loans.
The report concluded:
Targeted free tuition can provide an answer to the dual challenge of needing sufficient resources for high-quality teaching in mass higher education systems and persuading potential students from the poorest families that higher education is for them.
The authors added that this report “could not be more timely for the UK”, particularly as a year-long review into university and student funding will soon be completed.
How would free tuition help students?
Recent findings from the Sutton Trust reveal that UK students are graduating with an average debt of £46,000.
This is partly due to the recent abolition of Maintenance Grants by the government, with borrowing now the only government-funded way for students to finance their living.
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Indeed, students who come from the poorest 40% of households face graduating with £51,600 of debt. Clearly, reducing or eliminating tuition fees for people in this demographic would be highly beneficial and hopefully reduce the number of prospective students opting not to go to uni based on financial factors.
In fact, despite Student Loan debts being wiped after 30 years, our Student Loan Calculator suggests that abolishing tuition fees would significantly reduce the amount that many graduates would repay - despite the fact that there's a greater chance of repaying in full.
Is free tuition likely?
The report says that there's more value for money if you reduce or remove net tuition for poorer students than doing so for wealthier ones. It also recommends that adoption of a targeted tuition fees policy should be a “serious consideration” all over the world.
Many students are, of course, in favour of completely free education - as was made clear when thousands of students protested on London’s streets at the end of last year to demand it.
Although the current government is currently conducting a review into university funding, the Conservatives haven't given much of an indication that they're looking to abolish tuition fees.
However, one of Labour’s main manifesto points is that, if elected, they would abolish tuition fees and bring back Maintenance Grants.
That said, although free university isn’t on the cards at the moment, there is possible change on the horizon as the Autumn Budget approaches.
If the Conservatives have any new announcements regarding tuition fees and Maintenance Loans, there's a good chance that they'll be announced in November when Chancellor Phillip Hammond delivers his Budget speech.
Until then, current and prospective students can hope that the HEPI report will be listened to and that the government will think of a way to tackle the mounting issue of university funding.
What are your views on tuition fees? And how do you manage your money at university? Let us know in the comments!