Response to Labour Party announcement on fees

27 February 2015

Commenting on Labour’s policy on university tuition fees, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General and Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said: 

"Providing a world-class education for our students is an absolute priority for Russell Group universities. Good teaching requires proper funding to be sustainable.

"A cut in the income we receive would jeopardise the first-rate education we give to our students and the key role we play in promoting economic growth.  So it is vital that our universities are given a clear and robust guarantee that they will be compensated fully for a cut in fees. 

"We welcome the Labour Party’s stated recognition of the importance of higher education and the promise that Government funding will replace fully income lost from a cut in fees. We also welcome the increase in maintenance support for needier students.

"However, we would be placed into a position of having to trust that any future government will provide sustainable funding for our universities and not divert resources to other priorities. We therefore remain cautious because the proposed system makes us more dependent on direct Government funding which might be vulnerable to future cuts – even if hypothecated. 

"It is also important to recognise that the fundamentals of the current student finance system - which is progressive, efficient and potentially sustainable - in England are working. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds have not been deterred from going to university – in fact their numbers have increased – and we are making every effort to ensure further progress is made to widen access. Indeed, a cut in fees does not help poorer students, many of whom do not pay back the full loans under the current system if their earnings are not high enough.

"In the face of significant public funding cuts, the current system has helped Russell Group Universities in their commitment to providing a world-class education. It has served to strengthen the relationship between students, their universities, and their chosen programmes of study, making students more discriminating and universities more responsive. The associated flexibilities have enabled leading universities to expand student choice and access.

"But budgets are already very tight. The level of funding for home students on many courses in leading universities – particularly those on expensive science courses – does not cover the costs of providing those courses. 

"We would prefer any incoming Government to focus on improvements to the current system and address these shortfalls in funding. For example, changes in repayment conditions could significantly help to make the system more sustainable. But we will, of course, look at these proposals in detail to see if they allay our concerns about such a significant change to the current system.”

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