Arts and social sciences students could pay lower fees in future, education secretary says

Ella Wills
'University tuition fees should partly be based on how a degree course could benefit a student's future career': PA Wire/PA Images

Arts and social science students could see their tuition fees slashed in a new “value for money” deal, the Education Secretary said.

Damian Hinds suggested the fees charged should reflect the cost of delivering a course and future earnings - potentially signalling a cut in how much some students are charged - as well as the needs of the country.

Theresa May will set out further details of the review of the system in England in a speech on Monday, and Mr Hinds said it would examine all aspects of tertiary education.

The review will examine the current system of fees, which currently cost up to £9,250 a year in England.

Mr Hinds said: "I don't think politicians are going to be setting the cost and the prices for different courses.

"All forms of education, all courses, all subjects have great value, have great worth.

"What we need to look at is the different aspects of pricing - the cost that it is to put on the course, the value that it is to the student and also the value to our society as a whole and to our economy for the future.”

The panel carrying out the review could look at all aspects of tertiary education finance including the interest rate on student loans, he suggested.

The influential Commons Treasury Select Committee said the high interest rates - currently 6.1 per cent - on student loans were "questionable".

Asked if the review could cover the possibility of a graduate tax rather than the existing system he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show it would "look at alternatives".

But he added: "We think it's right that if you benefit from a university degree you should make a contribution.

"That is what this current system does. What we are doing in the review is looking at how that system works, making sure there are alternatives, making sure there is more variety.

"That could include lower-cost ways of delivering education, it might mean shorter courses - which also means less time out of the labour market - more opportunities to be able to study while you work."

It could also look at areas such as part-time study and living costs.

The review comes amid growing debate about university finance, including student debt and whether students are getting value for money.

The announcements are likely to be met with close scrutiny by university leaders, as some warned that finding the right balance on tuition fees and university finance is likely to mean a "series of difficult trade-offs".

A spokesman for the Russell Group, which represents 24 of the UK's most selective universities, said: "Any changes to the current funding model need to be fair and affordable to students, while still meeting the needs of taxpayers and universities in providing students with a high-quality education and experience."

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner told the Andrew Marr Show: "We have had three announcements of reviews in the last 12 months and eight years of the Conservatives that have damaged higher education and totally decimated our further education infrastructure.

"Another review isn't going to solve the problem of the hike in interest rates which this Government has done and the tripling of tuition fees.

"Most students have said that the removal of maintenance grants is one of the biggest barriers to them at the moment and the Government has said nothing on that."

But Mr Hinds defended the decision to scrap grants and replace them with maintenance loans, saying it allowed students to have access to more cash to cope with living costs.

Universities Minister Sam Gyimah told Sky News's Sunday With Niall Paterson: "The review will look at all aspects of the student finance system."

He added: "These are tough issues to resolve, they will require some very tough trade-offs, that is why you need a review to look at the evidence dispassionately, especially as we also want to preserve the really good bits of the current system."