Maintenance grants should be re-introduced to help low-income pupils enter higher education, a Department for Education-commissioned review of post-18 education has said.
Even though more disadvantaged young people are going to higher education than ever before, there remain “huge gaps in access and provision”, the review chaired by Philip Augar states.
Funding: What is the post-18 review?
As well as re-introducing a maintenance grant of at least £3,000 a year, the review proposes an increase in resources to support low-income students while studying, and it also expects to see more effective access and participation plans.
“Although participation in HE has continued to grow among the most disadvantaged, an access gap remains when compared with the more affluent," the report states.
"The panel are persuaded that this gap partly arises from the fact that it is the disadvantaged who are most likely to be deterred by loans, and we note the strong concern expressed in the call for evidence about the highest levels of debt being incurred by disadvantaged students as a result of grants being abolished in 2016."
It points out that a disadvantaged student who progresses to a high-earning career will pay more for their education than a student from a more affluent background, because they needed to take out more money in loans while studying, rather than relying on parental contributions.
The review points out that:
- Advantaged students were more than twice as likely to enter full-time higher education in 2018 as their disadvantaged peers.
- Only around 4 per cent of disadvantaged 18-year-olds go to the highest-tariff universities and advantaged applications are more than 5.7 times more likely to do so than their disadvantaged peers.
- 14 local authorities outside London see less than a third of young people progressing to university or an HE course in a college.
- There has been no overall assessment of the effectiveness of spend on different approaches to recruiting and supporting disadvantaged students.
The review also calls for: a cut in tuition fees to £7,500 a year by 2021-22; overhauling the student loan system (which it recommends is renamed the "student contribution system") to increase the proportion of loans that is eventually repaid; and introducing a lifelong learning loan allowance, equivalent to four years’ full-time undergraduate degree funding, for adults aged 18 or over without a publicly funded degree.
And it wants schools held to account for their statutory responsibility to provide information, advice and guidance on careers, recommending that every secondary school is able to be part of a careers hub and more young people have access to meaningful careers activities.
Dr Augar said: “We are firmly of the view that post-18 education should be a lifelong experience available to all, irrespective of age, situation or income. Our proposals are intended to create such a system.”
The government will consider the recommendations and conclude its overall review of post-18 education and funding, which began in February 2018.
A spokesperson for the Fair Access Coalition said: “A lot of progress has been made in widening access to higher education, but we need to be careful that these gains are not sent into reverse.
“There is a lot to be welcomed in the Augar recommendations. An increase in maintenance support, more support for part-time degrees, greater flexibility to gain a degree through bitesize courses, a funding boost for further education, are all welcome steps.
"But they will do nothing to improve social mobility overall if the funding for widening participation activity is cut. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds need long-term support, which starts early and combines help to get the grades needed with information, advice and guidance to make good choices, to access post-18 further and higher education options in the first place. And then to stay the course and do well.
"We urge the government to commit to maintaining the current level of funding for these vital activities, and to a full consultation on all the reforms proposed.”
Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "While it is good that the Augar review recommends reinstating maintenance grants, its proposal to reduce tuition fees from £9,250 to £7,500 just tinkers around the edges of a grossly unfair system.
"If we are serious about creating an equitable student finance system, fees should be means-tested so that those from low-income families incur the lowest debts."
Education secretary Damian Hinds said: “I am determined that every young person has the best opportunity to learn and succeed, regardless of their background or circumstance and this means improving not only the education on offer but access to it.
“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.”