Response to the Augar review of post-18 education in England

Midlands Enterprise Universities welcomes the Augar review which has looked at some of the long-standing issues surrounding post-18 education – namely access to loans for full and part-time adult learners, the low-level skills gaps at levels four and five and support for less well-off families.

Our universities are committed to addressing the skills shortages in the Midlands region and work in partnership with employers to help deliver the workforce of the future. We also have a large collective student population and offer opportunities for all, regardless of economic or ethnic background. The suggestions in the review of greater support for intermediate levels and for second-chance learners will support this wider social mobility agenda.

Looking at the fee repayment model and reviving maintenance grants will also go some way towards encouraging wider participation and reversing the decline in the total number of people involved in post-18 education.

Although participation in HE has continued to grow among the most disadvantaged, it remains lower compared those in more affluent groups. Restoring maintenance grants to at least £3,000 a year will certainly help to address this issue as the cost of going to university is significant hurdle that students from low-income families have to overcome. Capping the interest on student loans also seems fair and reasonable.

A key priority for our members is to support the lifelong learning and mobility of students.  The MEU is developing a framework, called the Midlands Credit Compass, which will support students who leave their course partway through to return to study at any one of the MEU’s six partner institutions.

The panel’s recommendation of awarding interim qualifications which would enable students to build up credits module by module or year by year, along with the introduction of a lifelong learning loan allowance to help adults upskill, supports this aim.

Giving people access to funding over their lifetime has long been argued for because people don’t just get a degree and then never have to retrain or reskill, especially in today’s job market where there is no longer such a thing as a ‘job for life’ and people’s working lives are a lot longer.

Of course, the proposed cut in tuition fees to £7,500, with replacement public funding targeted at subjects that cost more to teach and have greater “social and economic value to students and taxpayers”, is of concern to the sector and we would welcome a review of the teaching grant and how it is allocated.

The publication of this report is just the beginning of the process, however, and as with all universities and colleges, we will now be looking into the full detail of this review and how it might be received by Government. Overall however, we welcome the panel’s findings and are happy to make a positive contribution to any consultation or government action based on the report.

Professor Ian Marshall 

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Strategic Alignment and External Relations), Coventry University