Once again the issue of university funding has reared its head. As is often the case, the government has turned to an independent review for a solution. And as with a lot of reviews of this nature, the likely result is already fairly well known. It will almost certainly be to raise the tuition fee cap, probably to £7,000.
However, there is a difficulty. A recent survey by the Sutton Trust suggests that £7,000 might be something of a “crunch point” at which students’ willingness to pay noticeably starts to drop away. Before any discussion of fees, 80% said they would like to go to University, but this dropped to 45% when the £7,000 figure was suggested. Universities therefore face a problem. Either they can pick a figure between the current £3,250 and the increased cap that maximises their revenue or they can attempt to encourage more people to enrol even if the fees are increased. Assuming at least some will want to do the latter there are a couple of proposals I would like to make beyond the obvious advertising campaigns.
The first and perhaps most obvious would be for universities to cut course length. This would reduce the burden on the taxpayer and particularly on the student. It would also enable the student to enter the workforce a year earlier and to benefit from the additional earnings.
A second proposal, again at the discretion of individual universities, would be for a portion of the fees to be paid if and when the graduate starts a job with a salary above a pre-arranged threshold. This would remove some of the risk for a prospective student as their debt would be reduced if their degree did not significantly benefit them. It would also encourage universities to offer courses that improved employment prospects and would give them an incentive to provide a reasonable amount of careers assistance.
Either of these proposals would significantly decrease the obvious cost disincentive to go to university and would enable the better universities to shine, while those which offered courses which were not generally employment friendly would find it difficult to cover their costs. These measures fall short of the radical changes many (including myself) would like to see in higher education but would nevertheless significantly improve the situation without overhauling the entire system.