Browne reforms 'mark end of publicly funded degrees'

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Image caption,
Graduates face much higher costs for their degrees

Lord Browne's recommendations are the "final nail in the coffin" for affordable higher education, academics have warned.

His call to remove the fee cap would make England's degrees the world's most costly, the UCU lecturers' union said.

The National Union of Students said graduates faced "crippling debts" and universities faced devastating cuts.

Vice-chancellors said higher fees were replacing public funding.

NUS president Aaron Porter said: "To make the next generation pick up the bill for cuts and force students to pay even more for less would be both unsustainable and unjust.

'Priced out'

"Lord Browne is clearly dangerously out of touch with the pressures faced by students and their families.

"The government must reject proposals that would recklessly undermine our future by ending the notion of public higher education."

The shadow business secretary, John Denham, said higher fees would mean some graduates were saddled with debts for life.

"It's very obvious it's the people in the middle income graduate jobs - the nurses, the teachers, the middle managers - who will be hit because they will pay the debt off longer, many of them will still not have paid it off when their own children go to university," said Mr Denham.

"But people at the very top, because they can clear their debt more quickly, will actually pay less and be debt-free much younger. So it's actually a very unfair way of paying a very big bill."

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "Lord Browne's recommendations, if enacted, represent the final nail in the coffin for affordable higher education.

"His proposals will make our public degrees the most expensive in the world and price the next generation out of education.

"The government must not go down this route. Students have already been clobbered with fees and top-up fees and every poll on the subject warns that they, and their families, won't accept another hit."

On the likely funding cuts, she said: "The enormous cut to the teaching budget proposed will turn Lord Browne into the Dr Beeching of higher education."

She predicted that courses, jobs and even whole universities would disappear.

'Level playing field'

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of university think tank Million+, said the proposals "transferred the responsibility for the funding of higher education to students, graduates and their families" and would "deeply damage social mobility."

"Fees at this level - even if they are backed by state-funded fee loans - will undoubtedly mean that some students who would have gone to university will decide not to go."

GuildHE chief executive Andy Westwood said any decision to lift the cap on fees merely to offset cuts to the higher education budget in the Comprehensive Spending Review, was likely to "miss the wood for the trees".

"When considering the Browne review recommendations ministers should take a step back from short-term financial objectives and think carefully about the longer term impact of their decisions on higher education and the economy in general.

"While a more market-orientated higher education funding system has its merits, all institutions must be allowed to operate on a level playing field."

However, Paul Wellings, Chair of the 1994 Group of leading research-intensive universities said the review was the "first progressive step in a long process to address the important issue of university funding".

"Everyone's priority has to be to reassure students of all backgrounds that they will be able to attend a university with the resources necessary to offer academic excellence and the very best experience."

However, he warned that "the impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review later this month must not be allowed to detract from the gains offered to universities by the Browne Review".

Steve Smith, president of the vice-chancellors' umbrella group Universities UK, welcome Lord Browne's recommendations, but warned that any government proposals arising from the review "must deal immediately with the anticipated gap in public funding for universities".

He has previously said he is concerned that the funding system reforms will not get through parliament, but the sector will nevertheless face major cuts.

"I urge politicians not to leave us with an insurmountable funding gap and, instead, work together to find a workable solution," he said.

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