Rosemary Bennett quotes Sir Peter Lampl, Sutton Trust founder in a summary of the Augar review in the Times.
Millions of graduates will still be paying back student loans in their sixties under plans to reform university funding.
A report has concluded that too few graduates are meeting the full costs of their studies. They should be made to start repaying their loans sooner and continue to make payments for a full 40 years after leaving university, the review of higher education funding said. In return, fees should be cut from £9,250 a year to £7,500 and the interest rate on loans, which is now 6.3 per cent, should be reduced to the level of inflation while they are studying.
The review, by the former banker Philip Augar, also recommends that the government bring back student maintenance grants of at least £3,000 a year for the poorest entrants. The measure could cost as much as £2 billion a year.
The government should be honest with middle-class parents about how much they are expected to pay towards their children’s education, the report said. The present system implies a parental contribution of almost £15,000 over three years for households with earnings of more than £62,187, yet this is never made clear. Students then haggle with their parents over how to supplement their maintenance loan of £4,000, which often does not cover their rent.
Dr Augar said that the reforms would make it easier for mature students to gain qualifications. He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “The main thrust of the report is to level the playing field between the 50 per cent who go to university, who by and large are well treated . . . and then the other 50 per cent who don’t go to university, and the vast majority of mature adults out there in the population who have never been to university but who might want to pick up education later in life.”
He said the proposals would make it easier to get a “lifelong learning loan allowance” that could be drawn down in chunks over a person’s working life.
The review was set up after the 2017 general election, when the Tories were taken aback by the popularity of Labour’s policy to abolish tuition fees. It was also designed to ensure that students repaid more of their debts and to give greater protection to the taxpayer. At present all outstanding student debts are cancelled 30 years after graduation. Projections show that 83 per cent will have some debt written off.
Theresa May will endorse the report today and urge her successor to bring back maintenance grants for the poorest students to try to bolster her legacy. This is understood to have infuriated other ministers, including Philip Hammond, the chancellor. The cost of implementing the recommendations has been estimated at £6 billion a year.
Martin Lewis, the personal finance expert, said that if graduates were forced to repay in full it would feel like a “very long-term” income tax increase.
Bill Rammell, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire and a former higher education minister under Labour, called the proposal “a complete con” and said it would lead to students contributing more to the cost of their university education.
The government welcomed the report but said any cut in tuition fees would need the support of parliament.
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, which campaigns for social mobility, said: “If we are serious about creating an equitable system, fees should be means-tested so those from low-income families incur the lowest debts.”