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The new market for higher education slouches … and things fall apart

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The new market for higher education slouches … and things fall apart

The incoherence of the coalition government’s policies for higher education is further revealed. The future cost of student loans to the taxpayer will rapidly exceed the costs of the present arrangements, indicating that any contribution to the overall policy of ‘deficit reduction’ will be short term at best. There are a number of possibilities within the logic of the government’s position.

First, is to restrict student numbers. There is already unmet demand for university places and this will remain so, despite rising unemployment (especially youth unemployment). High fees have also reduced applications by 8.5% indicating that fear of indebtedness is outweighing anxiety over employment prospects.

Second, is to press down the level of fees. This was intended to be the role of the new for-profit providers, but the government fears bringing legislation forward for debate in the House of Commons, but more especially the Lords. The intention remains clear however, with Mr Willetts’ decision to allot 10,000 places to FE Colleges. When it is a matter of expense, the minister’s choice trumps that of students.  

Third, is to reduce the threshold at which loans would be repaid to place more of the burden on students. Step forward, Demos, to argue that,  “the repayment terms of student loans should be made less generous.”  

The government can’t increase places or maintain quality except by shifting even more of the costs of higher education onto students. But its selling of the new arrangements and the price of its junior coalition partner agreeing to the new regime was precisely that the repayment of fees would be income-contingent with a threshold of £21000 and a 30-year limit.

There is little wonder that the government wants to avoid debate. It is hardly likely that they can escape further protests by students. Will the liberal democrats sell short the only concession they gained for breaking their electoral promise on fees?

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