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Theresa May announces major review of university tuition fees

Prime Minister Theresa May has today announced an independent review of university tuition fees and student finance.

As reported by the BBC, May announced the year-long review of funding in a speech at Derby on Monday afternoon, warning that the system has failed to deliver sufficient competition on price, with almost all courses being charged at the maximum £9,250 per year.

The Government-led review, supported by an independent chair and panel, will look at all aspects of student funding, including the maintenance support available to help students with living costs.

The Prime Minister said: “The competitive market between universities which the system of variable tuition fees envisaged has simply not emerged. All but a handful of universities charge the maximum possible fees for undergraduate courses.

“Three-year courses remain the norm. And the level of fees charged do not relate to the cost or quality of the course. We now have one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world.”

She added that the review will focus on four key areas:

1. ensuring everyone can access higher education
2. the funding system
3. incentivising choice and competition
4. and how to deliver the skills the country needs

Theresa May’s comments come after the new education secretary, Damian Hinds, claimed that the review would recommend that some universities cut their fees for social science and humanities courses, given that many recent graduates in those subjects earned salaries below those of others.

However, Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner disagreed with that idea, believing that charging more for the courses which help graduates earn the most could put off students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds from applying.

The review comes amid widespread concern about the debt burden on students and the high interest rates (6.1%) on loans.

England’s tuition fees are currently higher than in most countries after they were increased from £3,290 to £9,000 per year under the Coalition Government in 2012, and again to £9,250 last year under the Conservatives. It’s thought that fees would be reduced to closer to £6,000 a year following the review.

Maintenance grants for poorer students were scrapped last year but may be reinstated under the new proposals.

However, critics believe that cutting tuition fees would actually do more harm than good. Calculations by the London Economics consultancy firm found that cutting fees down to £6,000 would take more than £3bn a year away from universities. This would mainly benefit higher earning graduates, who would pay less back in student loans, as well as those students with rich enough parents that they don’t need to take out loans in the first place.

The Labour Party has claimed it would abolish fees completely and bring back maintenance grants, something which the Conservatives regard as unaffordable and regressive.

Regardless of what the review finds, the issue won’t be resolved anytime soon. With the review set to run for an entire year, reporting in early 2019, the government has been accused of dragging their feet on the issue. It means that for those students who are applying to start university this September, nothing will have substantially changed.

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