Twitter, newsletters and inboxes are awash with laudable cries of “Augar has landed” with the ensuing panic of trends, hashtags and responses symptomatic of the most breaking of news. You may be forgiven for your surprise given that ‘Augar’ is a 200-page, 50-recommendation, long-overdue piece of policy.
And yet, unusually for a 200-page, 50-recommendation, long-overdue piece of policy, it shines.
What’s in the report?
The ‘Augar review’ has bravely taken on a challenge of bringing together all post-compulsory education; further and higher education.
In February 2018 Dr Philip Augar was appointed Chair to the Post-18 Education and Funding Review Panel, tasked with an investigation on tertiary education. The ‘Augar review’ has bravely taken on a challenge of bringing together all post-compulsory education; further and higher education.
The first government review to do so since the Robbins report in 1963, we’re thankful for the bravery. Uniting a skills system in pulling together different components is a more sensible approach than stacking them one atop the other, squashing the middle – in this case FE.
The review covers eight distinct chapters which we will return to over the coming days.
- The system
- Higher Education
- Further Education
- Student finance
- Student maintenance
The headline recommendations of the report, starting with the numbers: Estimated costs of recommendations
- Capital investment of £1bn in Further Education
- Annual costs of £0.3-£0.6bn in Levels 4 and 5
- Annual savings of £0.5bn in higher education
- Overall increases to annual post-education costs of £0.3-0.6bn in England and £1.2bn-£1.5bn in devolved administrations
- Overall debt saving of £0.1-£0.5bn annually in England and increase of £0.7bn-£1.4bn for devolved administrations.
Until we know the methodology of how the ONS intends to classify student loans on the national accounts, it’s hard to conclude much from this. And those estimated costs assume all recommendations are being adopted, with miniscule odds.
Currently FE serves 2.2millionfull and part time students with £2.3bn of public funding, compared with HE serving 1.2 million undergraduate students with over £8bn of funding. Large-scale underinvestment will not produce a robust and agile labour market, let alone one which needs to embed re-skilling and up-skilling in order to future proof, so the intention of £1bn capital investment for FE is welcomed.
- Lifelong learning allowance – all learners over the age of 18 should have access to the finance for a 4-year degree, provided they haven’t already achieved one through public funding
- All learners able to access student finance for credits at L4-L6
- All L6 students to be awarded one interim (L4/5) qualification
The highest qualification for 70% of the 18-25 year-old population is Level 3 or lower, with the remaining 30% holding a Level 6 or above. Just 0.6% have a Level 4 or 5.
This has the potential to tackle the current trend of jumping from L3 to L6 and missing out vital stages.
This has the potential to tackle the current trend of jumping from L3 to L6 and missing out vital stages. It provides greater flexibility to the system by offering useful hop on and off points for some and higher finish lines for others. The universal approach to awarding a Level 4 or 5 for all in HE reinstates the qualifications with merit and offers parity of esteem.
Value for money
- The sector has two or three years to challenge the recruitment of students to courses with poor retention, poor employability and poor long earnings, otherwise the government should intervene
The determination to see higher education as a market creates issues surrounding value for money.
The determination to see higher education as a market creates issues surrounding value for money. Whilst we agree that students should understand what they’re paying for, value is not easily measured. A concern over ‘too many students’ taking degrees in courses which do not translate to good outcomes or high LEO and DLHE results assumes that the intrinsic value of a degree is in monetary value to both graduate and economy.
It also presumes a homogenous ‘good value’, ignoring the motivations and intentions of a diverse student population. This is further exacerbated by the threat of grade thresholds and caps, which would have a substantive detrimental impact on efforts to widen participation, which the report admits. A caveat allows for contextualized recruitment but at further expense of institutional autonomy.
- Apprenticeships should reflect the Industrial Strategy and those which do will be prioritised for funding
- Funding for Level 6 apprenticeships and above should only be available for those without an existing publicly funded degree.
It’s not radical, but just the start.
It’s not radical, but just the start. Should apprenticeships ideally drive forward the skills already outlined as needed for future economic success? Yes. Aligning skills to a future economy is logical and a welcome extension to the introduction of degree apprenticeships. But let’s not forget that previous Industrial Strategies have fallen victim to changing winds and the current environment is a storm.
Tying everything to a National Industrial Strategy, with no mention of Local Industrial Strategies is narrow and difficult to achieve when you roadblock re-skilling. Removing funding for additional L6/7 qualifications means ignoring the concept of multiple careers in a lifetime, making it hard for employers to build skills. Forcing them buy or borrow instead, – more expensive options than upskilling
Fees and funding
- Cap on fees to be reduced to £7,500pa by 2021/22 frozen for two years then increased with inflation
- Government to replace lost fee income by increasing teaching grants, but grants to be adjusted based on subject
- Repayments to start earlier and go on longer
Student fees will always be the elephant in the room, and the public will never see eye-to-eye with the sector. But Augar makes the case; the costs of higher education should mark an equitable distribution between learner, employer and taxpayer. No one can or should shoulder that burden, and the reduction in fees is intended to demonstrate a ‘reasonable cost of higher education’. Yet there needs to be a guarantee in making up the funding shortfall through grants and this new system needs future proofing against an expected rising demand for places.
- Restoration of minimum £3000pa maintenance grants for disadvantaged students
- More transparency around parental contribution, student living and rents, and support
- Student finance to be renamed student contribution to remove poor association with debt
Changing from loan to contribution – fantastic. The idea that you have to get into debt to increase your education creates a damaging association. But, we’re nervous about the reintroduction of maintenance grants coupled with the decrease in fees.
In theory it sounds progressive and supportive of social mobility. But research shows that both moves disproportionally advantage higher-earning graduates, who often come from higher-earning backgrounds. In the context lowering the repayment threshold and lengthening the repayment period, there is a danger that these recommendations will work to get learners into higher education but do nothing to help the generational social mobility that could follow.