Discussion paper: Updating student finance

The current system under which university education in England is financed via student loans has been accompanied by controversy since its inception. The 1998 Teaching and Higher Education Act was introduced by the recently elected Labour government under Tony Blair. It brought in tuition fees, with loans available for students to pay towards their fees, and also replaced maintenance grants by loans for most students.

Tuition fees were raised to £3000 per year in 2004, and in subsequent years to £9250. The increases were marked by student protest and street demonstrations, amid claims that this would discriminate in favour of middle class students and those from well-to-do backgrounds. The Labour manifesto pledge to scrap tuition fees altogether was reckoned by many analysts to have contributed to a large proLabour vote among young people.

Many claimed that tuition fees financed by student loans represented a shift from finance of university education by older taxpayers to finance of it by a cash-strapped younger generation which enjoyed few of the state benefits available to its older counterparts.

The replacement of maintenance grants by maintenance loans was seen by some as part of the same process, with these rising for the year 2016/17 to a maximum of £8,200 for students living away from home outside London, and more for those studying in the capital. For a typical 3-year course leading to a degree, this has meant that students upon graduating could face a debt burden in excess of £50,000 (according to the Sutton Trust, the average student debt at graduation was £44,000 in 2016). It causes disquiet among many students that they are starting their working life with such a huge overhang of debt.

The calculations of repayment liability and of interest charged are dauntingly complex and impenetrable, and the system has been charged several times with failure to process information rapidly, or to correct overpayment collected. The current basis for most is that interest will be charged at the Retail Price Index for salaries up to £21,000 and at RPI + 3% for salaries of £41,000 and over. Debts are written off after 30 years, no matter how much or little graduates pay back, and once you have paid off your debt you no longer make repayments. Graduates who go abroad for 3 months or more have to complete an Overseas Income Assessment Form so that repayments can continue to be made, although there are obvious difficulties in some cases of enforcing collection

Read the full discussion paper here.

Lackademia: Why do academics lean left?

  • Individuals with left-wing and liberal views are overrepresented in British academia. Those with right-wing and conservative views are correspondingly underrepresented. Around 50% of the general public supports right-wing or conservative parties, compared to less than 12% of academics. Conservative and right-wing academics are particularly scarce in the social sciences, the humanities and the arts.
  • Though relatively little information is available, evidence suggests that the overrepresentation of left-liberal views has increased since the 1960s. The proportion of academics who support the Conservatives may have declined by as much as 25 percentage points since 1964.
  • The left-liberal skew of British academia cannot be primarily explained by intelligence. The distribution of party support within the top 5% of IQ is relatively similar to the distribution of party support within the general population.
  • The left-liberal skew may be partly explained by openness to experience; individuals who score highly on that personality trait tend to pursue intellectually stimulating careers like academia. And within the top 5% of IQ, openness to experience predicts support for left-wing parties.
  • Other plausible explanations for left-liberal overrepresentation include: social homophily and political typing; individual conformity; status inconsistency; and discrimination.
  • Ideological homogeneity within the academy may have had a number of adverse consequences: systematic biases in scholarship; curtailments of free speech on university campuses; and defunding of academic research by right-wing governments.
  • Recommendations include: raising awareness; being alert to double standards; encouraging adversarial collaborations; and emphasizing the benefits of ideological heterogeneity within the academy.

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Profit-making Free Schools: Unlocking the Potential of England's Proprietorial Schools Sector

In this groundbreaking report, James Croft argues that the crisis of school places can only be met by giving true freedom to Free Schools and allowing profit-making schools to operate within the Free Schools programme. In his study of profit-making school outcomes, he shows that schools charging fees on a par with the average state expenditure per pupil equal or exceed the performance of average independent schools. As the report shows, unlocking the power of profit within the Free Schools programme would be a revolution in schooling in England.

Read the report.

The Right to Choose: Yes, Prime Minister!

Sweden has been operating a choice-based school funding system since the early 1990s, with great success.

To promote this right to choose in the UK, three proposals are recommended: (1) parents should be entitled to remove their children from failing schools and choose any other school instead; (2) public finance would be available to all schools on the basis of the number of students they could attract; and (3) a non-refundable tax credit to provide parents with a pound-for-pound reductions in their income tax liability (up to an agreed limit) for each child they have in non-state education.

Read it here.

Open Access for UK Schools

Open Access for UK Schools: What Britain can learn from Swedish Education Reform argues for a radical overhaul of the UK school system.

Inspired by Sweden's experience, the report calls for the UK to implement a universal open access scheme, which would allow parents to send their children to any school of their choice – whether state, private or religious – and make these schools eligible for government funding on a per–pupil basis. Two conditions must be met: the schools must not charge additional fees, and must accept pupils on a first-come-first-served basis.

Read it here.

Transforming Higher Education

Dr Terence Kealey highlights the reasons as to why American universitites are superior to ours, and other economically advantaged nations. He states that the aim of all universities must be to move away from state dependence to independence, with there being an urgent need for their endowments to be restored to assist in this move.

The best universities in the world are independent, but in the UK we've made the mistake of allowing governments to fund - and therefore control - the universities directly. The Higher Education Funding Councils should be abolished, and the universities should be freed of state control. The HEFCs' funds should be transfered to needs blind funding agencies to allow students, regardless of background, to access higher education on the grounds solely of merit.

Read it here.

Delivering Better Education

The fundamental problem lies with the way education is delivered. The aim of this short paper is to show that there are tried and tested alternatives around the world. They bring in delivery mechanisms that are responsive to what parents and students require, meet the needs of all, including the most disadvantaged, and succeed in raising educational standards. These are market approaches to education. But moving towards these alternatives need not be a party-political issue: the values that underlie them fit in with the emphases of the current Labour government as much as with the Conservatives' concern with freedom and choice.

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