Cuts to tuition fees that would save students at least £5,000 over a three-year course are being considered by the Chancellor, it has been reported.
Philip Hammond is looking at capping annual charges at £7,500 instead of the current level of £9,250. The reported move comes amid concern from Conservatives about their low support base among young people, who voted for Labour in huge numbers in the June election.
The Government has come under intense pressure to ease the burden of student finances after warnings that most graduates will never clear their debts.
Universities have also faced a wave of criticism for paying out staggering salaries while those signing up for courses are plunged tens of thousands of pounds into the red.
Currently, universities charge £9,250 for courses in arts and humanities, the same price as those which are more expensive to run, such as the sciences.
Differing fees for different subjects could also be introduced and may depend on the course’s employment rate, the paper reported.
Capping interest rates on student loans and increasing the salary threshold for their repayment is also being considered.
Graduates from Russell Group institutions in subjects such as computer science and economics typically earn many times more than arts students from new universities.
“There are too many universities where kids are not getting a high skilled job,” Robert Haflon, Conservative MP and chair of the education select committee, told The Sunday Times.
“We have to look at value for money for tuition fees,” he added.
The proposals will be revealed in full by Mr Hammond as part of the Autumn Budget, it is believed.
The Government is reported to have commissioned analysis which shows how some universities have amassed millions in surplus income from fees.
The Labour Party, which has pledged to abolish tuition fees, said the proposals did not go far enough to help disadvantaged students.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: “Labour has long been calling for the Government to take action on rising student debt, including rethinking their eye-watering interest rate hikes and raising the repayment threshold for graduates. They need to stop talking and get on with it.
“The Chancellor’s reported proposals don’t help many who most need support – that is why Labour will bring back maintenance grants for disadvantaged students as well as abolishing tuition fees entirely.”
The Shadow Education Secretary also called on the Chancellor to accept the vote passed in the Commons this week to reverse the most recent hike in tuition fees – from £9,000 to £9,250, which are due to be implemented this autumn.
The Labour Party motion to scrap the fees hike passed without opposition on Friday, because the Conservatives chose not to oppose it. However, the Government maintains the vote is not legally binding.
The National Union of Students has also slammed the Conservative’s proposals. Shakira Martin, NUS president, said: “We welcome commitments from any political party – not least the Government – to rethink the failed experiment that is the current £9,000 tuition fees system.
“While reducing tuition fees would represent a step in the right direction, the Government is not going far enough.
“There has been no commitment to bringing back maintenance grants which would support the poorest students through their study. We also hold strong reservations about creating differential tiers of tuition fees which wrongfully imply a gulf of difference between institutions based on flawed metrics of quality.”
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