The Winners and Losers of the Browne Report

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The Winners

Russell Group Universities- Rather than receiving a teaching grant from the government which currently subsidises the cost of higher education, universities will receive their funding primarily from students themselves with caps on tuition fees being lifted. Part of the aim of this (other than to curb public spending) is to increase competitiveness among universities, which the report says will drive up quality as institutions compete for students. Russell Group universities stand to benefit from this most because they are already well placed to take advantage of higher fees, being the most prestigious and sought after universities in the country.

Part Time Students- Unlike under the current system where part time students cover their own fees, students who have families or are in full time employment will benefit by having their fees covered by government loans. The report explains that it wants to give a ‘second chance’ to those people who missed out on the university experience when they were younger.

‘Priority Subjects’- Certain ‘priority subjects’ highlighted in the Browne report will continue to receive government funding. These include science and technology subjects, clinical medicine, nursing and other healthcare degrees, as well as strategically important language courses. The report states that such courses offer ‘significant social returns’ which benefit wider society. The thinking behind this is that the costs of running these courses are high, and prospective students may be deterred from studying them if they had to pay all of the fees themselves. Public investment would contribute towards reducing the fees of priority courses for students.

Students from low income families– The maximum government grant to support students from low income families will be increasing to £3,250. The full amount will be available to students from families with a household income of less than £25,000, but a partial grant will be available to students from a family with a household income up to £60,000. The current government grant is just under £3000. Universities will no longer be obliged to provide their own bursaries to support poorer students but are free to offer financial aid if they wish. The report predicts that this may see more selective institutions offering the highest level of financial aid in order to attract students from a wide range of backgrounds. However, some have criticised the amount of money being offered in the grant, saying that it will not be enough to meet rising living costs.

The Losers

New universities- New universities and ex-polytechnics may struggle in the competitive market environment in which they will be forced to operate. At present university places are funded partly by the government and partly by the flat rate tuition fees. New universities tend to attract students from poorer backgrounds, so they may not feel able to raise tuition fees too much even if they need to as a means to fund courses. They could be faced with a stark choice between losing students by raising tuition fees, or not being able to provide a decent standard of education as a result of being underfunded. The report even goes so far as to highlight a possible eventuality that some institutions might ‘fail’ if they are unsuccessful at attracting enough students. There has been some speculation that this could mean university closure, but the report is not that specific. It does suggest that if ‘institutional failure’ seems imminent, the soon to be created Higher Education council may allocate funding to rescue struggling universities. If ‘institutional failure’ cannot be prevented then mergers or takeovers would be considered, the report states.

Non ‘priority subjects’– Public funding for courses not specified as ‘priority subjects’ will be withdrawn. Some academics have expressed concern that this may have a severe and disproportionate impact in certain areas, particularly in the humanities subjects. Gillian Evans, professor of medieval theology and intellectual history at the University of Cambridge has criticised the report saying, ‘if Browne succeeds in ending funding for all subjects that are not considered priority science and technology subjects, strategically important languages or ones that provide “significant social returns”, presumably that means that history, politics, archaeology, palaeography and English literature will have to move out of the publicly funded buildings and into tents in the car park’.

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