Friday, 6 July 2007

Good politics, bad policy?

The news that graduates are to get a five year loans holiday and that eligibility for grants will increase significantly may seem like good news. But there is a good reason why the proposals have only received a "cautious welcome" from vice-chancellors. This £400 million wheeze may make it easier to win back seats lost to the Liberal Democrats in university towns. But it will do very little to improve access for poorer students. The big problem is raising ambition rather than finance - the evidence of both the 1998 and 2006 fees changes is that there is no impact on access from the higher fees, because both packages effectively allowed for post-graduation repayments. Had the £400m been invested in a big expansion of summer schools, there would have been a bigger return. Instead, there is a huge deadweight cost. And far from being a signal that higher fees are imminent, vice-chancellors must be wondering whether this first announcement from the once anti-top up fees minister John Denham is a signal that they cannot really expect to be able to charge higher fees after the promised 2009 review.

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