Education Secretary Damian Hinds has told England’s universities not to “scaremonger” over their finances, ahead of a review which is expected to call for a cut in tuition fees.
There have been warnings that lowering the fees to £7,500 per year could put some at risk of going bust.
But Mr Hinds accused universities of “distorting the picture” and said the sector was in good financial health.
The fees review is set to promise students better “value for money”.
The review into student finance and university and college funding, chaired by Philip Augar, is due to report next week.
The review could include:
Tuition fees lowered from a maximum of £9,250 per year to £7,500
This fee income would be replaced by direct funding to universities from government
More money in students’ pockets while they are studying, with access to more maintenance loans and the return of means-tested grants
Students on vocational courses having wider access to student loans and financial support
Changes to the repayment terms and interest charges, such as lengthening the payback time beyond 30 years
A way of limiting student numbers, such as a minimum grade threshold of three Ds at A-level
An individual “lifelong” entitlement to student finance up to the value of an undergraduate degree, which could be used for vocational or academic courses
Different levels of funding for different subjects, which would recognise that some degree courses, such as arts subjects, are much cheaper to deliver. Different levels of fees would be more controversial.
More incentives for shorter, cheaper two-year accelerated degrees
Centralise the budgets for widening access to university, rather than taking it from tuition fees
Examine the cost of university accommodation
Commissioned by the prime minister, the review is expected to be one of the last major announcements before Theresa May leaves No 10.
It was launched in the wake of the 2017 general election, countering Labour’s promise to young voters that it would completely scrap tuition fees.
The review will seek to make university more affordable and give more support to students in vocational and further education.
Mr Hinds has highlighted the problem of “low value” degree courses, where there is likely to be little financial return for students.
The further education sector is expected to benefit from the review, with the suggestion that more students should consider getting technical skills and qualifications rather than going to university.
Lost fee income
These will be proposals rather than final decisions – and the cost of any changes will have to be linked to the government’s spending review later this year.
Universities will want to know whether any drop in fees will be compensated by direct funding.