TUITION fees could be slashed and grants reintroduced as Theresa May attempts to make university more accessible to poorer students.
Too many courses offer insufficient value for money, the prime minister will say today as she announces a sweeping review of higher education. She will admit the healthy competitive market envisaged when universities were given freedom to triple fees under David Cameron has failed to materialise.
‘All but a handful of universities charge the maximum possible fees for undergraduate courses,’ Mrs May is expected to say.
‘Three-year courses remain the norm and the level of fees charged does not relate to the cost or quality of the course. We now have one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world.’ A cut to the maximum annual tuition fee of £9,250 is likely to be considered in the review, scheduled to run into next year.
The reintroduction of maintenance grants for the poorest students, which were replaced with loans in 2016, is also tipped to be on the agenda. The independent panel leading the exercise could recommend cutting the interest on loans — currently 6.1 per cent — and universities could be ordered to offer more two-year degrees.
Mrs May is concerned that the poorest graduates are the most indebted, typically owing £59,000 compared with the average of £46,000.
She will say some have been left ‘questioning the return they get for their investment’.
Education secretary Damian Hinds yesterday hinted at big cuts to fees for arts and social science courses that are cheap for universities to run.
Charges must reflect costs, and courses unlikely to lead to lucrative careers should be less expensive, he told BBC1’s Andrew Marr show.
It comes after Labour vowed to scrap tuition fees if elected.
The Sutton Trust, which campaigns for disadvantaged youngsters to be given better access to education, said restoring the grants was essential and fees should be cut for most students.