Those tuning into the Chancellor’s speech today may have been wondering why HE didn’t get a mention. But looking at the Budget red book, there are in fact a handful of announcements relevant to the sector. The key questions are how new, or radical, they in fact are and what the implications will be.
Much of this will be ironed out in the coming days and weeks and this piece may be updated as more information comes to light:
1. Masters and PhD Loans
Perhaps one the most interesting announcements in the Budget was the Government’s commitment to provide loans for any English students without a Research Council living allowance studying at a UK university. The introduction of loans, of up to £25,000, was first announced in last year’s budget, but only loans for taught masters had so far been taken forward. The Government today commits to introducing these loans for courses starting in 2018/19. Loans will be repaid on the same terms as masters loans but, instead of being repaid at 6 percent, will be repaid at 9 percent of earnings above £21,000. The Government will launch a technical consultation on the detail in due course. The Government also announced that it would extend eligibility for masters loans to include three-year part-time courses with no full-time equivalent.
2. Review of support for lifetime learning
While the announcement set out above is unlikely to completely temper the sector’s concerns about the future of part-time study, the next announcement could offer a glimmer of hope. The Government commits to reviewing the gaps in support for lifetime learning, including flexible and part-time study. With a review comes recommendations, and a fresh opportunity for the sector to lobby for change.
3. Supporting student choice
Student choice has been at the centre of the Government’s HE agenda for some time, and the Budget confirms that this will continue. It commits to bringing together information about wages of graduates and the financial support available across further and higher education.
Some will wonder what is new about this policy, particularly given the DLHE data that sits within the Key Information Set (KIS). In fact it refers to the proposals to link student record and HRMC data, made possible through the Small Business and Enterprise Act passed last year, and suggests the initiative to link earnings to educational data is in full-swing. This could have considerable potential, but also risks, as we pointed out in our blog earlier this year. Particularly if it is used to introduce departmental RAB-charges, which could affect the types of courses on offer and who they are open to.
The Government has not expanded on the proposals in relation to information on financial support, but it is a welcome announcement in the context of the rather limited information in the KIS and in the context of higher fees. Could this herald the introduction of a central register of bursaries?
4. Innovation audits
Greater Manchester and East Cheshire, Sheffield City Region and Lancashire LEP, and the Midlands will each have a science and innovation audit. According to the Government, these will help each of these regions to map their research and innovation strengths and to identify areas of potential global competitive advantage.
5. Alternative providers
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Government has maintained its commitment to supporting the role of alternative providers by continuing to free up student number controls for providers offering predominantly degree level courses for the year 2017-18.
6. More cuts to come?
The Chancellor announced that he will be cutting £3.5 billion more than anticipated across this parliament. However, he hasn’t announced exactly how they will be found. BIS’ budget looks set to remain the same until 2020, but before the parliament is over, the department could be asked to find additional savings to help the Chancellor find those extra billions.