The architect of the original “top-up fees” for university tuition, former Labour minister Andrew Adonis, has called a report by an influential House of Lords committee “fundamentally incoherent”.
The Lords Economic Affairs Committee published its report Treating Students Fairly: The Economics of Post-School Education this week. It called for more funding for further education, as well as a reduction in the debt burden for students in higher education.
But Lord Adonis, the former head of the Number 10 policy unit during Tony Blair’s premiership, argued that the committee could not proclaim all these messages at the same time. He added: “They can’t say there are vast hidden costs and, by the way, wouldn’t it be good to give some [more money] to FE and part-timers," he said.
Fees 'unlikely to survive for long'
Lord Adonis called the report “very much a product of a committee”, adding: “It’s fundamentally incoherent in analysis and recommendations.”
However, he now believes the momentum is behind scrapping tuition fees. Writing in Times Higher Education last August, he said that he believed the system was “unlikely to survive for long”. He added: “If resentment festers and grows until the next general election, outright abolition is likely. A Labour victory would lead to this immediately.
“Given the popularity of its pledge to abolish fees in June’s election, Labour will stick to it next time under almost any leadership. Faced with another battle for the youth vote, the Tories are unlikely to want to fight Labour on fees, which means promising to slash them at the very least.”
'Nothing incoherent' about asking for honesty
Julian Gravatt, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, defended the House of Lords report. He said: "There's nothing incoherent about also asking for more honesty in how the UK government accounts for the higher education costs."
He added: “There's a rising number of young people in schools at the moment. In the 2020s many of them will want to go to higher education. The Lords committee is right both to ask questions about what sort of courses they should take, to make suggestions about making the system more flexible and to suggest ways to develop level 3, 4 and 5 education.
"The current system hides the cost of higher education. Labour's 2017 manifesto probably underestimated the costs of abolishing HE tuition fees because no account was taken of the rising population.
“Whoever is in power in the 2020s will either have to find more money, or to ration university places, or to carry through reforms that develop different models for post 18 education. The state pension age will be 68 for today's 18-years-olds so a single three year full-time burst of higher education in the first three years of a fifty year working life may not be the best way to start.”