Funding for higher education is as much under challenge as other public spending.
This time last year, Lord Browne – with support across the spectrum of political parties – began an independent review of funding and of student finance. The Coalition Government received that report in October, considered it and has now published the proposals which would come into effect in the academic year 2012-13.
As well as the need for sustained funding for higher education, it is important to think about widening the access to education.
There is no doubt that this country benefits from having the widest possible pool of skilled people. Those who come from less advantaged backgrounds deserve their chance, as well as those whose circumstances dictate that they can only study part-time.
The thought of paying back fees and loans might deter an individual from going into higher education, particularly if she or he is worried about not being able to find a job at the end of it. For that reason, under the proposals, the repayment threshold would rise from the current £15,000. No graduate earning less than £21,000 a year would have to make repayments.
For those earning between £21,000 and £41,000, there would be a tapered contribution (to a maximum of inflation plus 3%). Only those graduates earning more than £41,000 would make a full contribution to the costs of the system.
A quarter of graduates (those on the lowest incomes) would pay less overall than graduates do at present.
It is also important that the system should not be weighted against those who cannot pay off their debts early and there will be more consultation about this.
Again, to help less advantaged students, universities which wish to charge more than the £6000 fee threshold will be required to take part in the National Scholarships Programme.