If I were an ex-BP chief executive…

No, not Tony Hayward – the other one.

If I were Lord Browne, aka head of the review of student finances, I’d recommend things that would start to put the student finance system back on track and end the massive taxpayer subsidy we have that favours the better-off over poorer people.*

Let’s concentrate here on the tuition fee aspect:

1. Bring in a substantial increase in the graduate contribution (the deferred loan) to cover at least two thirds the cost of tuition (just to be clear on this, that’s the cost of teaching, not any research that the teachers do).

2. Charge proper interest rates on graduate contributions. The current system of zero interest is neither sustainable nor fair.

3. Allow fees to be linked to teaching costs and student demand, so that expensive courses that are in high demand (e.g. medicine) are priced higher than cheaper ones that are less popular (e.g. mathematics), and studying among dreaming spires is dearer than doing it in portacabins on the Hornsey Road.

4. Dump the link between ‘widening participation’ and the fees universities can charge (this is political oil spill territory, however, so it seems wildly improbable).

5. Extend the graduate contribution scheme to part time students. The best way to do this would be by charging a fee for each module completed, so that there’s no difference between the cost to students of different modes of study. You rack up a debit for each module, and you pay it back in the usual way if and when your total annual income exceeds the threshold. (If you do a degree that mixes different disciplines, you’ll eventually pay varying amounts for each module related to demand and cost, of course).

6. Give students the opportunity to pay their deferred fees upfront, at a substantial (say 25%) discount.

7. Get rid of the nonsense about students needing extra government-collected information about teaching quality to make them into more savvy consumers.

8. Do a big PR job to decouple the concept of student maintenance loans from tuition fees.

9. And do a similar job to rebrand ‘top up fees’ as graduate contributions.

*(Only the Observer, a once great paper now reduced to mediocrity, could assume that it’s ‘progressive’ to force low paid workers to pay for other people’s higher education — and that higher fees will dissuade students from going to university. Or possibly the Guardian).
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