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Why the skills debate matters – Short and long term

With plans afoot for the United Kingdom government to review higher education funding, speculation is growing about the recommendations that might result. Could discounted or otherwise incentivised courses be the answer?

Robert Halfon, an influential Conservative MP and chair of the Education Select Committee, has recently added his voice to the debate about the future of higher education fees. He believes that students who take degrees that lead to employment in areas of skills shortage should receive a fee discount. All courses, he believes, should be about high-skilled employment.

To quote his example, he does not condemn courses such as medieval history but believes the government should not provide any form of discount to students who take them. Instead, he says, the country has serious skills shortages in healthcare, digital, engineering, coding and construction and students should be incentivised by discounts to take degrees in those subjects.

Parity of esteem for skills-based courses would follow if Oxford and Cambridge universities offered degree apprenticeships.

No doubt Halfon exaggerates for effect. His advocacy for new routes to fill serious skills shortages vital to the countrys future is heartfelt and his championing of universities with excellent employment records for their graduates is refreshing. Yet what is needed is not an either-or approach to how well different tertiary courses prepare students for work, but a more comprehensive review of post-school opportunities.

There are striking examples of traditional universities like Sheffield and Warwick with major commitments to apprenticeships and work-based learning. Halfon refers to Dyson, but he could equally praise the extraordinary vision of the founders of a new university in Hereford that is pioneering an entirely different way of teaching engineering intensively, with no lectures and industry placements the norm.

What is interesting about that model is that attitude, ingenuity and drive are the key determinants for entry. Hereford wants passioneers, not engineers. Students with arts backgrounds will be as welcome as those with a science one. The truth is, we need both and often in combination.

As a country the UK should promote coherent and often regionally-based routes for skills-based education where universities, colleges and employers work closely together to design and deliver courses.

Alternative paths

Opening up the fees debate, by reconsidering the possibility of personal learning accounts which could be used to agreed limits by the student for credits within such consortia or universities, or often both, should be considered.

Taking the famous Californian system where articulated learning pathways and qualifications are provided between two-year community colleges and four-year state universities as an example, we need to reinvent the UKs tertiary education system for the 21st century.

Research-intensive universities and private institutions can also flourish in that eco-system. A fairer funding system for all learners with a transparent and universal tariff system would do much to achieve parity of esteem. Such a system would also encourage flexible and part-time learning, with meaningful compacts between employers and education providers.

It is the most depressing consequence of the current system that part-time student numbers have fallen by 60% and mature student numbers by 40% since 2010.

This is not a fantasy. There are emerging networks of this type already and the Office for Students the new regulator has been particularly charged with promoting a workable and effective credit system as well as greater flexibility for students.

The networks are also including schools, academies and university technical colleges so that the imagination of young people can be stimulated from a very young age to consider the beginning of what for many of them will be a lifetime of opportunity and learning.

What are the skills we need for the future?

This is perhaps the most important point about this debate and one that has important implications outside the UK. We are now in what many call Industrial Revolution 4.0 the digital revolution. We cannot easily predict what skills we will need in the future and what kind of jobs will exist.

While responding to immediate need, we must ensure that our education system is based not primarily on what you know but vitally on developing powers of analysis, critical thinking, systematic enquiry and emotional as well as intellectual insight.

These are the skills that will be in most demand and will enable young people to adapt and continue to learn through what will be for many a working life of great variety and different forms of employment.

The intellectual demands of all tertiary education should be celebrated, not just because the curriculum is grounded in the rather slippery concept of the real world. For many universities, the most popular student societies are those for entrepreneurs and which provide space and simple facilities for innovation and experimentation. Education is often about peer learning and context as well as the classroom.

Let us by all means praise apprenticeships and professional degrees. But let us also think much harder about the funding and structure of a tertiary system, not only a university system, that can provide the wider skills, the opportunities and the different routes for lifetime learning that our society will need, not just tomorrow but over the next generation

Dr Jonathan Nicholls is director of strategy and policy services for education at Shakespeare Martineau.

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English funding review must reconsider interest rates, say MPs

The government should reconsider high interest rates on English student loans as part of its major review of university funding, the Treasury Committee has urged.

In a new report on student loans, the committee says that the government’s justification that high interest rates of up to level of the retail price index (RPI) plus 3 per cent are “progressive” is questionable, given that graduates with very large salaries may pay less over their lifetime than lower-earning graduates because they can repay the loan quicker.

The government has provided no “persuasive explanation” for “why student loan interest rates should exceed those prevailing in the market, the government’s own cost of borrowing, and the rate of inflation”, the report states.

The committee also questions the government’s justification that an above-inflation rate on tuition-fee loans while students are still at university prevents the loan from being invested, given that tuition-fee loans are paid directly to the university.

The government should reconsider these high rates and abandon the use of the “widely discredited” RPI to calculate student loan interest rates in favour of consumer price index (CPI), the committee says.

The report also includes an analysis showing that £6 billion to £7 billion of annual student loan write-offs are hidden from the deficit because they are written off only after 30 years, and a further £6 billion could be written off through the sale of £12 billion of student loans over the next five years.

“As the writing-off of student loans will have no impact on the deficit for the next 30 years, the large and increasing level of money spent on higher education makes no difference to whether the government is meeting its [fiscal] target, and therefore [the government] escapes scrutiny,” it states.

Prime minister Theresa May announced a “major review of university funding and student finance” in England in October and is set to make a speech on the details of this review on 19 February.

Ms May’s appointment of two new education ministers last month was seen by policy experts as a move paving the way for a more radical review. Policy analysts have predicted that the review could potentially bring the return of the student numbers cap and a cut in funding per student.

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The report from the Treasury Committee recommends that the government assess the case for the reintroduction of maintenance grants, claiming that maintenance loans are “at odds” with the government’s aim of removing barriers to access.

The review should also “include a fundamental rethink of its offer to part-time students” to stem sharp declines in part-time enrolment, should explain why £9,250 tuition fees are desirable, and should simplify the student finance system to ensure that it is more understandable, it says.

Nicky Morgan, the committee’s chair, said: “The use of high interest rates on student loans is questionable. The government has justified it on progressive grounds, but the committee remains unconvinced as high-flying graduates may pay less than graduates on more modest earnings. 

“No other persuasive explanation has been provided for why student loan interest rates should exceed those prevailing in the market, the government’s own cost of borrowing, and the rate of inflation. The government must reconsider the use of high interest rates on student loans as part of its review.”

Responding to the recommendations, Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said that the funding system “needs to be better understood and to feel fairer to students”.

“More should be done to address students’ concerns about living costs so that no one is deterred from benefiting from a university education. New investment to reintroduce maintenance grants for the poorest students would be a positive step,” he said.

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Letter, 2/18: UNL needs better funding, not cuts

People cross in front of the Nebraska Union in blowing snow on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018.

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Higher education and the new doctrine of vocation

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Theresa May to reveal details of tuition fee overhaul on Monday

Options being considered include cutting fees to £6,000 and changing interest rate

Fri 16 Feb 2018

Last modified on Fri 16 Feb 2018

Students graduating at Aberystwyth University.
Photograph: Photofusion/UIG via Getty Images

Theresa May is to set out details of her government’s long-promised major review of higher education funding in England – with the current structure of £9,000 undergraduate tuition fees up for scrutiny.

In her speech on Monday, May will outline the delayed review of university funding, with vice-chancellors nervously awaiting the small print of the overhaul that is expected to take up to a year to complete.

The options being considered include cutting tuition fees for students in England from the current level of £9,250 to closer to £6,000 a year, by dismantling requirements on universities to spend funds on widening participation measures and bursaries aimed at disadvantaged students.

Calculations by the London Economics consultancy firm found that cutting fees down to £6,000 would take more than £3bn a year away from universities, and mainly benefit higher earning graduates, who would pay less back in student loans.

Such a change would mean the government having to increase its funding for higher cost courses such as medicine, engineering and many sciences, which it already subsidises, as well as funding widening participation efforts.

Other changes are likely to include the way interest is calculated and applied to student loans, with the current top rate of 3% plus the retail price index of inflation to be revised.

The prospect of the “radical review” announced by May at last year’s Conservative party conference had receded after opposition from the previous education secretary, Justine Greening, and universities minister, Jo Johnson.

But both Greening and Johnson were moved by May in her last reshuffle, leaving the way clear for a more disruptive review as envisaged by May’s advisers to take place.

Before May’s announcement, the University and College Union (UCU), which represents many academic staff, called for the review to look at reintroducing maintenance grants for students from poorer backgrounds.

“Too often recent reviews have simply resulted in finding new ways to saddle students with record levels of debt,” said Sally Hunt, UCU’s general secretary.

“Reversing recent cuts in corporation tax would free up money to fund students’ fees, bring back maintenance support and still leave the UK with a competitively low rate of corporation tax.”

Parliament’s Treasury select committee is preparing its own recommendations on student loans, including a look at reintroducing maintenance grants and simplifying the current loan structure, which baffles many parents and students.

May’s announcement comes at a difficult time for university leaders, who face increased public scrutiny over high levels of pay for vice-chancellors, strikes over staff pensions and the arrival of the sector’s controversial new regulator, the Office for Students, which becomes fully operational in April.

Under the system introduced by the coalition government in 2012, annual tuition fees in England were £6,000 with an option to rise to a maximum of £9,000 if universities gained approval for access agreements targeted at improving admissions among students from disadvantaged or under-represented groups.

But in practice universities quickly adopted access agreements and raised their fees to the highest level, which now sit at £9,250 a year.

Along with student loans to cover living expenses, the average graduate debt has increased to £46,000, and to £57,000 for students from less well-off households. The debts are repaid by taking 9% of graduate income above £25,000, with any remaining debts 30 years after graduation being scrapped.

A recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated that 77% of graduates taking out student loans would have part of their loans written off by the Treasury because they would not earn enough to repay them within the 30-year limit.

London Economics calculated that cutting fees to £6,000 a year would reduce the average student debt on graduation by just £9,400 to £36,600.

Mark Leach, editor of the Wonkhehigher education thinktank, said the government should resist cutting tuition fees merely to win headlines.

“Key questions right now are: the current fees are frozen at £9,250 but for how long? And if fees are to be seriously cut, just how low will they go? And will the government plug the gap for lost income to universities after the cut?” Leach said.

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MSU President Clif Smart Continues to Advocate for Equitable Funding for Higher Education

Under Governor Eric Greitens’ proposed FY19 budget, public universities in Missouri would see a 10 percent decrease in funding.  Missouri State University President Clif Smart said that would mean a reduction of $8,668,000 for the university.  According to Smart, if that reduction is realized, MSU would be receiving $10 million less  than it received in 2001 when the university had 6000 fewer students.

Ninety-eight percent of MSU’s operating funds comes from two sources:  Tuition and fees and state appropriations, he said.  That means a tuition and fee increase will be likely for the next school year. 

Smart said the university is continuing to downsize and try to find ways to reduce expenditures.  If a compensation increase isn’t possible in the next fiscal year, it will be the second year without a pay raise for employees.  He said that would make it likely that employees will leave for jobs with higher pay elsewhere.

Services for students might have to be reduced, according to Smart.  And he said some students might not be able to complete or start their education as tuition increases. 

To offset the likely tuition and fee increases, MSU has implemented affordability initiatives:  The number of credit hours needed to graduate has dropped from 125 to 120; the university has renegotiated its dining services contract to reduce the ongoing increases in meal costs; the price to live in some university dorms won’t go up next year; MSU is working to expand its Open Access textbook offering; and some scholarships have been expanded.

Smart said they’re getting to the point where they won’t be able to find any more areas to cut in order to stay within the budget.  According to Smart, they cut more than they had to last year (about $2,250,000 in costs) in anticipation of receiving further reductions in the next fiscal year. 

Smart has been to Jefferson City to advocate for equitable and adequate funding for higher education and said, “clearly we’re not making our case that higher education is essential.”  He said they’re working not only with their two and four-year partner universities, they’re also working with business and the chamber of commerce to make their case.  He said he’ll continue to urge Missouri lawmakers to restore some of the proposed funding cuts.

According to Smart, if the governor’s budget comes into play, Missouri will spend about $800 million on higher education.  “The state of Alabama, which is smaller than us, spends $1.8 billion,” he said.

He said the response he’s received from lawmakers so far “has been tremendously positive.”  But he’s cautiously optimistic funds that have been cut from higher education in the proposed budget will be restored.  “We’ve got all sorts of tax reduction bills that are in play that impact how much revenue comes into the state,” he said.  There’s the unknown of how much the governor is looking at withholding, according to Smart, so there’s a lot of uncertainty.  “We continue to prepare as if the governor’s budget is going to become law and going to come into effect,” he said, “and then we’ll adjust if the cuts are less draconian.” 

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HigherEdPoints.Com Crosses $1,000,000 in Funding Higher …

Toronto-based tech start-up helps students and families fund tuition and repay student loans using Aeroplan Miles, CIBC Aventura and other loyalty programs.

TORONTO, Feb. 14, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — HigherEdPoints Inc., a four-year-old startup based in Toronto, has crossed the $1,000,000 mark in helping students and families fund tuition and repay student loans at more than 100 Canadian universities and colleges. Every dollar was converted from loyalty points accrued through Aeroplan Miles, CIBC Aventura and other loyalty programs.

The million-dollar milestone shows the rapid growth in awareness — and adoption — of by Canadian families facing rising costs and looking for alternatives to pay for school. “The company took three years to reach the $500,000 mark, and just one year to process the next $500,000,” said Suzanne Tyson, founder CEO of HigherEdPoints Inc.

“It’s an exciting tipping point for us,’’ Tyson said. “We are seeing a real surge in awareness. Students and parents across the country are incorporating HigherEdPoints into their funding plans for university and college.”

Tyson, a former publishing and loyalty program executive, started in 2014. In November of 2017, she was named one of 25 women entrepreneurs to watch in Canada by SheEO, an innovative global leader in supporting, financing and celebrating female entrepreneurs.

Through the website,, students, family members and others can convert points to offset costs at schools from the University of British Columbia to University of Toronto to Dalhousie University. More than 10,000 accounts have been created, facilitating thousands of redemptions ranging from $250 right up to $26,000 with an average user offsetting $1,000 of educational fees.

“We’re helping students and parents fund the most important investment of their lives,” Tyson said. “Over 100 schools and the Ontario (OSAP) and Alberta student loan programs are able to offer a new source of no-cost funding to increase educational access and attainment. The points programs have created tremendous goodwill with members, while increasing their loyalty. It’s very rewarding on all levels.”

Users are thrilled with the program. Anthony Di Corte, a York University science graduate, says HigherEdPoints relieved his financial stress and paved the way for his enrolment in teacher’s college. His aunt used points from her credit card for her business to help him pay off $10,000 in OSAP loans.

“This was pretty much all the student loans I had left and all I could say was WOW!! It was just so astonishing for our family,” said Di Corte.

Tyson is expanding in 2018. Several new types of institutions such as SHAD Canada, Pearson College UWC, UCC and the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College have been added to the program in recent months. Deloitte Canada has set up a charitable pooling account into which Aeroplan miles can be donated and converted into educational funds for students in need.

“We are eager for to serve many more Canadian households and to engage a growing list of university and corporate partners in this innovative new way of funding the road to higher learning,’’ Tyson said.
About HigherEdPoints: HigherEdPoints, through partnerships with like-minded Canadian corporations, is dedicated to finding innovative ways to help students and families fund higher education.  After all, it takes a village to raise a mind™

For more information, email: or call 416-551-8941.

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Lecturers want ‘radical’ tuition fee review


University staff are calling for a “radical” overhaul of tuition fees and higher education funding in England in a review of student finance.

Sally Hunt, leader of the UCU lecturers’ union, says the review must be more than “tinkering at the edges”.

The review, expected to be formally announced in the near future, follows a promise by the prime minister to examine the cost of university.

Theresa May said the review would show “we have listened and we have learned”.

Ms Hunt, whose members are threatening strike action next week in a pensions dispute, says there needs to be a “fundamental look at university funding”.

‘Difficult trade-offs’

The system of student fees and loans should be based on an assumption that “higher education is a public good,” she said.

The fees review, expected to be announced by the prime minister and Education Secretary Damian Hinds, will consider cutting or freezing £9,250 fees and lowering interest rates of up to 6.1% for repayments.

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The Labour Party has been calling for a complete scrapping of tuition fees.

But universities are concerned about a loss of funding – and Ms Hunt said that businesses should be asked to make a “fairer contribution” to the cost of higher education.

The Russell Group of leading universities has warned that any changes to fees and funding should not mean a limit on places.

“Finding the right balance is likely to involve making a series of difficult trade-offs,” said a spokesman for the university group.

The Russell Group said that the funding model that emerges from the review needs to give universities a “predictable and sustainable” income – as well as fees that reflect the benefits to students from having a degree.

Value for money

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said he was concerned the review would focus too much on tuition fees and not “spend enough time on things like part-time funding and students’ cost of living”.

The review will examine how the level of fees and student debt can be balanced with the benefits of having a degree.

Former education ministers Justine Greening, Lord Willetts and Charles Clarke have called for the restoration of maintenance grants for disadvantaged students and have raised concerns over the level of interest charges.

Lord Adonis, another former education minister, has called for fees to be scrapped entirely.

A study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that the increase in fees to £9,250 and interest rates of up to 6.1% has pushed average student debt on graduation to more than £50,000.

Next week a number of university leaders and representatives will face a select committee inquiry into whether higher education is delivering “value for money”.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We will be conducting a major review of funding across tertiary education to ensure a joined-up system that works for everyone. Further details will be set out shortly.”

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California Legislative Analyst’s Office analyzes proposed 2018-19 budget

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office, or LAO, released a report Thursday afternoon analyzing Gov. Jerry Brown’s higher education budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

LAO’s report consists of four sections relating to the higher education budget, including the UC system, the CSU system, California Community Colleges and the California Student Aid Commission. Each section contains an assessment of the background and description of the proposals and provides relevant recommendations.

The analysis was released following a statement issued by the UC Office of the President, or UCOP, in January which addressed a 3 percent increase to the higher education budget proposal. The UCOP presented an optimistic outlook though it expressed concern the budget proposal increase was “less than we anticipated.”

As Brown is allocating a lower proportion of this year’s budget to higher education funding than in previous years, LAO senior fiscal and policy analyst Jason Constantouros said he thinks the budget allocation does not provide enough money to cover increasing university expenses.

Constantouros cited employee compensation and increasing student enrollment as examples of increasing costs within the UC system. The university, according to Constantouros, tries to maintain salary increases for its employees, which makes compensation a consistent cost increase.

“Faculty salaries are pretty competitive in comparison to other public higher education institutions across the country,” Constantouros said.  

The university bases its employee compensation on the compensation model used by eight other higher education institutions, four of which are private and four of which are public. According to Constantouros, however, this pool does not represent the full market.

Constantouros said the funding allocated in the higher education budget is not restricted by the state. He added that though the state legislature allocates some of the funding, the UC Board of Regents primarily decide on its distribution. The regents then divide the funding to the campuses based mainly on student population.

“There’s a lot of flexibility and control allocated to the UC system,” Constantouros said.  

Constantouros added that tuition increases and a larger nonresident student population are possibilities in the coming years. Tuition increases are voted on by the UC regents, who have yet to increase tuition for the upcoming year, according to Constantouros.

Student groups, including the ASUC, maintain that the proposed smaller percentage of the budget poses a risk to the education quality the university offers students, according to ASUC external affairs vice president Rigel Robinson.

Legislators are eager to deflect blame for our campuses’ struggles from Sacramento to UCOP, and in doing so are forcing students to foot the bill for political fights between administrators and politicians,” Robinson said in an email.

Robinson added he believes the 3 percent increase to the education budget is insufficient to keep up with the state’s demands for undergraduate enrollment growth and campuses’ increasing deferred maintenance costs.

The ASUC will continue to work with UCOP ahead of budget revisions scheduled for May, according to Robinson.

“The state, at the very least, the literal very least, ought to bump our funding increase back up to 4 (percent),” Robinson said in an email.

Contact Michele Meltzer and Rishabh Nijhawan at [email protected].

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Oklahoma higher education proponents regroup for continued fight …

One day after a $581 million revenue bill failed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, higher education proponents gathered Tuesday at the state Capitol to promote their agenda and funding request.

“In this legislative environment, you’ve got to regroup and look at what the options are,” Chancellor Glen Johnson said. “We look forward to engaging as early as today with our governor and with our leadership on what those options are.”

Johnson thanked Gov. Mary Fallin for supporting the Step Up Oklahoma revenue plan that offered “a path for budget sustainability going forward.”

Fallin was among the speakers who addressed hundreds of college students, faculty and presidents who gathered in the House chamber for the annual Higher Education Day at the Capitol.

“Education is the key to everything,” the governor said. “You need to go on beyond high school.”

The state has numerous programs that support Oklahomans in their efforts to obtain career credentials and college degrees, Fallin said.

“You’re the future of our state, all the students that are here,” she said. “Keep up the good work.

Jeff Hickman, the newest member of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and former speaker of the House, challenged the students to become engaged with their state representatives and senators.

“Don’t be bashful to share your thoughts on higher education with your legislators,” Hickman said. “There are no better advocates for higher education than you, the students from the colleges and universities across our state.”

It’s only the second week, but it’s already been a long, hard session for legislators, he said.

“Encourage them to not give up, and encourage them to ensure that higher education is part of the plan,” Hickman said.

For years legislators have called for higher education to find efficiencies, consolidate administrative functions and modernize the system, he said.

The regents took up the challenge and formed a 65-member task force that developed dozens of recommendations, which were delivered to the legislators Tuesday.

“It will be up to them to pass legislation to enact those reforms,” Hickman said. “If they choose not to, they must pay the cost to fund the system as it is.”

Oklahoma State University senior Erica Stephens said the biggest challenge for many high school students is how to pay for a college education.

“I and other students here today have hope for their futures. That’s why we’re here,” said Stephens, president of the OSU Student Government Association, who plans to attend law school and run for public office.

She is a first-generation college student who was able to pay for her education, thanks to the Oklahoma’s Promise tuition scholarship.

Stephens said the college experiences have given her opportunities, confidence, ambition and drive, which she otherwise would not have.

She urged everyone in the House chamber, “Keep fighting for our students and keep fighting for our future.”

The state appropriation to higher education has been cut more than $250 million in the past three years.

“The structural problem with this year’s budget and next year’s budget is still there,” Chancellor Johnson said. “We need to continue to look at ways we can come together to forge a solution that will provide opportunities for our students here today to complete their college degree.”

OSU President Burns Hargis spoke earlier in the day at a Capitol news conference.

“We need more advisers, we need more faculty, we need a lot of things at our universities which we don’t have,” Hargis said. “There’s a myth that higher education wastes a lot of money. That wasn’t true before, and it sure isn’t true after about a 25 percent cut in appropriations.”

It’s time to invest in Oklahoma higher education, he said. “We’d better get with it.”

Related to this story

Task Force on the Future of Oklahoma Higher Education

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