Will Hutton wrote in the Observer about the Independent Commission on Fees report
Thursday is A-level results day – cue for an English summer ritual to match Glastonbury mud and ill-judged fascinator hats at Ascot. There will be front-page pictures of attractive 18-year-olds exhilarated by their grades, tired articles reheating fears that educational standards are falling and ministerial boasts that students numbers are rising despite dark warnings that the new fee regime would cause them to fall.
There is more apparent good news. In 2015, English universities are spending £800m on promoting access for disadvantaged students as the quid pro quo for increasing their fees to £9,000 – a patchwork quilt of scholarships, fee-waivers, induction and remedial courses and building links with communities and schools to appeal to students from poorer backgrounds. It seems to be working. Analysis by the recent final report of the Independent Commission on Fees (which I chaired) shows that over the past five years the proportion of students from disadvantaged homes has risen markedly.
The notion that Britain’s students are simply shrugging off debts that by 2020 will be approaching £50,000 as universities index fees to inflation, bringing them near to £10,000, is far too optimistic. Today’s 16- to 18-year-olds are beginning to worry as much about debt as their older peers. A ComRes opinion survey commissioned by the Sutton Trust reports that 78% of young people were concerned as potential students about the cost of living, 68% by high tuition fees and 58% by having to repay student loans. They are right. The US is often quoted as the country whose system of student funding most cloesely corresponds to England’s, but because of generous scholarships in private universities and very low fees charged by many state universities, only 70% of US students graduate with debt, which in any case only averages £22,750. In Britain, all students graduate with debt almost twice the US level.
Read his full column here.