A government-commissioned review has called for university tuition fees to be cut to £7,500, and for student loan repayment to be extended from 30 to 40 years.
Maintenance grants to support poorer students, scrapped in 2016, should also be reinstated, the review says.
The report, headed by Philip Augar, was commissioned by Theresa May to look at high student debt and tuition fees following a pledge she gave to the Conservative party conference in 2017. Its publications has been delayed several times due to Brexit negotiations .
The prime minister said it is right to lower fees as “plenty of courses do not cost the full current rate of £9,250 per student per year to teach”.
The review warns that “some students are charged too much for their degrees” and calls for the maximum fee to be reduced from £9,250 per year to £7,500, beginning from 2021-22. This fee level would be frozen until 2023-24, after which it would rise with inflation.
Shakira Martin, president of the National Union of Students, said it would help to address “the debt aversion caused by high fees, high living costs and the lack of maintenance grants”.
Though universities have complained that they would struggle with a loss of fee income, the report says the gap should be made up with direct funding. This is controversial, however, as there would inevitably be higher levels of funding for some subjects – such as those considered by the government to be priorities.
Despite this recommended cut in tuition fees, which would be welcome news to many students, if the review’s recommendations were implemented, it would mean that students would be paying back their loans for an extra decade.
Repayments would also begin at an earnings threshold of £23,000 rather than the current £25,725.
Additionally, the report calls for the restoration of non-repayable maintenance grants for poorer students, worth up to £3,000 per year, that were scrapped under David Cameron, as of 2016
The prime minister welcomed this proposal saying, “my view is very clear – removing maintenance grants from the least well-off students has not worked.”
The report also criticised the lack of attention paid to those who don’t attend universities. It recommended a shift in funding from universities to further education (FE) and vocational training.
Dr Philip Augar said “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% of young people who participate in higher education or the rest,”
Damian Hinds, the education secretary for England, said: “This report acknowledges fully the key truth that our further education colleges also play a vital role in performing these functions.
He added, “too often we have had in our country a bias towards higher education, but we need to recognise equally the opportunities in both.”
However, Theresa May, soon to leave Downing Street, acknowledged the fate of the proposals would depend on the next prime minister.