The Browne Review-What Does it Mean for Us?

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You must have been hiding under a rock (or in the library buried under a pile of books) if you haven’t heard the words ‘Lord Browne’ and ‘Spending Review’ banded around campus over the past couple of weeks. And if, like me, you felt it your duty as an enthusiastic Southampton student to maybe find out a little more, you’ll know that this spending review is quite a big deal for the future of higher education in this country. Hailed by the Telegraph as a blueprint for the biggest reform of universities since the expansion of higher education in the 1960s, what follows is the low-down on the Browne Review and how it may affect us.

Firstly, who is Lord Browne?

Lord Browne of Madingley is the man who has chaired a panel of experts since November 2009, that were instructed to come up with a set of recommendations on the future of higher education funding in this country. In short, Browne is the brains behind the review.

What key recommendations does the Browne Review contain?

With regards to tuition fees, Browne proposes that:

  • There should no longer be a cap on fees. Universities should be allowed to charge whatever they like.
  • However, universities will have to pay a levy to the government if they choose to charge over £6,000.

Grants:

  • Universities will no longer be under obligation to provide a minimum bursary to those students in receipt of the full grant amount. This money will instead be distributed through the student grant system.
  • Cut-off for grant eligibility is to remain at £25,000, but grant amount will increase to £3,250.
  • In cases where household income is less than £60,000, students should have access to a small grant amount, instead of the current £50,000 limit).

Loans:

  • Maintenance loan should be capped at £3,750 for all students.
  • At present repayment starts when students are earning £15,000 per year, this is proposed to be lifted to £21,000 per year.

So, what impact does all this have on my university life now, and my financial future?

None of this will actually affect those of us who are currently at university. The earliest possible date that anything could come into effect is September 2012. However, if these recommendations are take up by the government, it will be our younger brothers, sisters and friends who have to bear the harsh financial consequences.

Perhaps the main worry for most potential students is that our higher education system could turn into an elitist system, where those with the richest parents are able to attend university, rather than those with the richest brains. Of course, this is not how it should be. With no cap on the tuition fee charge, some of the most capable minds from less affluent economic backgrounds may be reluctant to enter into such a system.  Those wishing to attend universities such as Oxford or Cambridge could potentially be hit even harder still, as the BBC Website argues, “assuming fees of £6,000, students taking an average three year degree and taking a maintenance loan each year, would graduate with about £30,000 of debt. But those studying at elite universities could end up owing that much simply for fees.” How is it fair that ambitious young minds could be prevented from reaching their potential at an institution of their free choice, purely because at the age of 18, the thought of entering adult life with debts closing in on £30,000 is a bit too much to handle?

While the threat of huge tuition fee amounts does hang over like a black thunder cloud, there are a few small silver linings. The Browne Review does recommend raising the eligibility for maintenance grants to those with household incomes at £60,000, instead of the current £50,000. This is sure to lighten the load slightly, especially for those who often fall between all the brackets and end up with little to no financial help at all.

Further to this, graduates will only have to begin repaying their debts once they are earning over £21,000. This is obviously a welcome move amongst many, allowing graduates slightly more financial leeway upon entering first time financial employment.

It is worth remembering that Browne’s recommendations are just that, – recommendations. The government doesn’t have to do exactly as Lord Browne proposes. There are ways in which we, as students, can have our say. There is currently a SUSU online survey you can fill in, and SUSU’s VP Academic Affairs, Rob Stanning, has drafted an online letter that can be sent to our local MP’s in order to make our voices heard.

We are all too aware that our country is in financial dire straits and cuts are to be made from nearly all sectors of public spending. However, the country still needs bright young people from our generation to rise from education, capable of leading us into a brighter and better future. Burdening us with such heavy financial threats only seems a way of making the problem worse.

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