Augar review: Give colleges £1bn and freeze HE funding

Post-18 education and funding review proposes major changes to address disparity between higher and further education

Stephen Exley

The post-18 review proses major changes in how post-18 education is funded

The recommendations of the Augar review – the report into post-18 education and funding commissioned by the government and chaired by former banker Philip Augar – have been published today.

Speaking at the launch of the report, prime minister Theresa May said it was time to "boost further education spending and put right the errors of the past".

While much of the media coverage in advance of publication has centred on the proposals to reduce HE tuition fees to £7,500 per year, the report aims to improve the lot of the “50 per cent of young people who do not attend higher education as well as the 50 per cent who do”, according to the Department for Education. The report's overarching desire to rebalance the relationship between further and higher education is clear: it states that HE funding should be frozen for three years to “help fund investment in other parts of post-18 education”.

The findings are wide ranging, covering everything from apprenticeships to student loans. The recommendations of the independent panel – which includes Blackpool and the Fylde Collge principal Bev Robinson and Baroness Wolf of Dulwich, the author of the 2011 Wolf Report on vocational education – include a “lifelong learning loan allowance available in modules, an employer-focused suite of higher technical qualifications and free intermediate education for ‘second chance’ adults delivered through a strengthened FE college network”.

It also calls for the student loans system to be renamed the “student contribution system” to help the public understand how it works.

Read more: 'Undervalued and underfunded': Theresa May on FE

Opinion: Why the post-18 review still matters for colleges

Background: What is the post-18 review and what does it mean for FE?

Reaction: Augar review a 'big step' for further education

Post-18 education overhaul?

The report will now be considered by the government, which will respond in due course.

Dr Augar, the panel chair, said: “The present government’s review is the first since the Robbins report in 1963 to consider further and higher education together. 

“It is an opportunity to consider the roles both parts of the system should play in meeting the country’s social and economic needs, how they fit together, how they should be funded and whether they are delivering value for students and taxpayers.

“Our work revealed that post-18 education in England is a story of both care and neglect, depending on whether students are amongst the 50 per cent of young people who participate in higher education or the rest. The panel believes that this disparity simply has to be addressed. Doing so is a matter of fairness and equity and is likely to bring considerable social and economic benefits to individuals, employers and the country at large. It is our core message.”

Augar Review: Key recommendations for FE

  • Colleges should receive dedicated capital investment of at least £1 billion over the next spending review period. "This should be in addition to funding for T levels and should be allocated primarily on a strategic national basis in-line with Industrial Strategy priorities," the report adds.
  • The reduction in the core funding rate for 18-year-olds should be reversed. The per-student funding rate was cut in 2014-15, meaning that funding for 18-year-olds is 17.5 per cent less than that for 16- and 17-year-olds.
  • All individuals should be entitled for their first "full" level 2 and 3 qualifications, regardless of their employment status or age.
  • Colleges should be given indicative three-year adult education budget allocations to aid forward planning.
  • Financial support for foundation years  attached to degree courses should be stopped. This includes so-called "Year Zero" courses run by universities.
  • A single lifelong learning loan allowance for tuition fees should be introduced for courses at levels 4, 5 and 6, available for adults aged 18 or over without a degree. The report, however, stopped short of recommending personal learning accounts, as had been predicted.
  • The structure of the "FE college network, particularly in large cities, should be further modified to minimise duplication in reasonable travel to learn areas". In rural and semi-rural areas, small FE colleges "should be strongly encouraged to form or join groups in order to ensure sustainable quality provision in the long term" the report adds. The government should ensure that a "collaborative national network of FE colleges" would enable "strategic investment and avoid counterproductive competition between providers".
  • The Office for Students should become the national regulator of all non-apprenticeship provision at levels 4 and above. Ofsted should become the lead responsible body for apprenticeships at all levels. 
  • Tuition fees for courses at levels 4, 5 and 6 should be capped at £7,500.
  • The title "college" should be "more clearly distinguished from other types of training provider in the FE sector with a protected title similar to that conferred on universities".

Hinds and Marsden respond

Education secretary Damian Hinds said that while higher education "can transform lives" and be "a great contributor both to our industrial success, and to the cultural life of the nation", FE colleges "also play a vital role in performing these functions. Too often we have had in our country a bias towards higher education, but we need to recognise equally the opportunities in both."

He added: “I thank the panel for their work, which now gives the government a lot to consider, and we will now carefully look at their recommendations before concluding the review.”

But Gordon Marsden, shadow minister for FE and HE, said: “Despite the urgent need for action now the government has put off any formal response until the Spending Review, with no guarantees that a new Tory leader and prime minister will take it into account.

“This is a blow for students and the sector, who are in desperate need of the restoration of maintenance grants and increased funding for further education that the Labour Party has long called for, and the Augar review has now recommended."

What the FE sector thinks

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, said: “Most will focus on tuition fees and higher education, but it is great to see this long-awaited report recognising the compelling economic and social case for better investment in further education.

“The drive to increase participation in higher education has paid dividends, but we are too focused on full-time undergraduate degrees for young people. The review is right that we need a clearer higher technical education route for learning throughout life."

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "The post-18 review report attempts to balance the needs, aspirations and opportunities for every adult and proposes meaningful changes across universities, colleges and skills which are vital to set the country up for the future – including welcome recognition for the vital role of further education colleges, a boost to intermediate level skills funding and new rights for all adults to be able to get the support they need to progress in learning."

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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