The UK government’s Department for Education has been consulting on the re-introduction of STUDENT NUMBER CONTROLS (SNCs) for universities in England. It points to perverse incentives for institutions offering poorer/less impactful courses, with relatively low entry requirements, to more and more students whilst charging similar fees.
I’ve yet to read the Reform Scotland report. I trust it acknowledges key differences in the HE systems in Scotland and England – very long tail of ‘low tariff’ (easier to enter) institutions in England, none of these in Scotland according to UCAS; importance of HE provision delivered by colleges in Scotland, with a well-developed process (‘articulation’) for college students to cross over into universities during their studies.
The UK government consultation document makes much of the importance of ‘quality’ of students’ educational experience and not just number of students attending university. It also emphasises the importance of technical/vocational education at colleges and apprenticeships: it’s not all about universities! And of course there is a lot of evidence now about the ever increasing size of the ‘student loan book’ associated with tuition fees etc. in England, much of which may never get paid off anyway.
The public financing of student loans in England has long been a ‘murky affair. This is from Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies as far back as 19 Feb 2018:
‘The first thing you need to understand . . . no, understand isn’t the right word, there is not enough logic here to allow understanding . . . the first thing you need to know is that when the government spends about £14 billion this year on loans to students, government debt rises by £14 billion but government borrowing does not. That £14 billion does not count against the deficit. That’s because the national accounts treat student loans as financial transactions. A loan is issued. It is due to be paid back in the future. There is no impact on the deficit unless and until the borrower fails to pay back.
‘But wait a minute. The student loan system is not devised even on the basis that all these loans will be paid back. The whole point of the system is that if you don’t earn very much, you won’t pay back very much. It is designed that way for a reason: it helps to ensure that people are not put off attending university. They don’t bear the risk of having to make large repayments from small amounts of earnings. Perhaps 80 per cent of graduates will not repay in full, given existing rules. Jo Johnson, minister for higher education until the recent reshuffle, thinks that under present rules between 40 per cent and 45 per cent of the value of loans will not be repaid.
‘This is, in fact, reflected in the Department for Education’s own accounts, which are likely this year to write off more than £6 billion of the loans that it makes to students. It is, nevertheless, not reflected at all in government borrowing figures.’
I’ve no idea whether such financial chicanery is still going on: do the UK’s national accounts still persist with this practice? Yet another ‘borrowing’ power not available to NI, Scotland or Wales. Barnett implications anyone?