Footnote on Fees and Funding

Student finance logo, via their siteAs the debate about the reintroduction of some form of third level fees rumbles on (and on, and on), the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) – a UK think tank established in 2002 with the laudable aim of ensuring that higher education policy development in the UK is informed by research and by knowledge of the experience of others – has just published a report by Juliet Chester and Bahram Bekhradnia on Financial support in English universities: the case for a national bursary scheme. From the abstract:

The introduction of variable fees for full-time Home and EU undergraduates in English universities has been accompanied by significant additional expenditure by universities on means-tested bursaries and on other financial aid for undergraduate students. However, this market is a highly distorted one, with serious consequences. This report therefore assesses the rationale for a national bursary scheme, by considering the extent and nature of the existing problems. It concludes that there is a strong case for introducing a national bursary scheme, which would provide eligible students with a guaranteed bursary from pooled institutional income – and promote greater affordability for students – but which would nevertheless allow individual universities to develop their own financial support schemes.

According to the Times Higher Education [with added links]:

The recommendation has split the sector. It was this week firmly rejected by the Russell Group and the 1994 Group of research-intensive universities, while it was backed by the Million+ group, which represents post-1992 institutions, and the National Union of Students.

The Russell Group described the proposal as “profoundly misguided“; whilst the 1994 Group said that the scheme would be an “extremely restrictive tool“. On the other hand, according to THE, Les Ebdon, chair of the (recently rebranded) Million+ group, said that the report “exposes the perverse nature of the bursary system”; whilst Wes Streeting, President of the NUS, blogged in the Guardian that HEPI’s report “is a breath of fresh air for those of us who have long argued that the current system of individual bursaries is bureaucratic, confusing and deeply inequitable”.

The intellectual and policy traffic need not go one way. As research and experience in the UK debate the utility of a national bursary scheme, then these are opinions that ought also to feature in the Irish debate.