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Students and visitors are seen walking around the main campus buildings of University College London (UCL) in London Britain
Image: Students and visitors are seen walking around the main campus buildings of University College London (UCL) in London, Britain. REUTERS/Toby Melville

UK University Review Risks Damaging Social Mobility

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Image: Students and visitors are seen walking around the main campus buildings of University College London (UCL) in London, Britain. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Poor students could be shut out of lucrative careers under Theresa May’s plan to force universities to cut tuition fees for arts and social science degrees, experts said.

Reforms Risk Damaging Social Mobility

The UK prime minister has set the stage to cut the cost of courses with lower earning potential in a speech this week in which she said the current tuition fees system in Britain is broken.

But experts warned that the reforms risked damaging social mobility.

Students Graduate with £50,000 Debts

With most students in Britain paying the maximum £9,250 a year in fees and interest rates up to 6.1%, and students leaving university with debts of up to £50,000, claims the Institute for Fiscal Studies, May admitted that the UK has “one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world”.

She unveiled a panel that will carry out a year-long review of the funding situation, but ruled out paying for students fees from general taxation. The government said in future that fees will be determined by the cost of the course and the “benefit to the student and the benefit to our country”.

Fees would Disadvantage Poorer Students

However cuts to tuition fees or reductions in interest rates would risk benefiting the wealthiest in society, experts warned.

The former education secretary Justine Greening said that making some fees more expensive would disadvantage students from poorer backgrounds and could exacerbate the skills shortage in the country.

She said: “…Thing that really matters from my perspective is social mobility and making sure we don’t end up with a system where young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds feel like they ought to do one of the cheaper degrees, rather than doing the degree they actually want that will unlock their potential in the future.”

The prime minister said that scrapping fees entirely would be unfair and damaging to universities. She said that those who did not go to university would end up paying higher taxes, and that universities would impose limits on the number of university places due to more competition for funding.

The tuition review will also think of ways to cut interest rates on loans and reintroduce maintenance grants for poorer students.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: “The review team start with enormous expectations on their shoulders. People want them to reduce tuition fees for some or all courses, lower the interest on student loans, bring back maintenance grants, help part-time and mature learners and bolster Further Education colleges.

“The Government has encouraged this speculation, but it will be hard to satisfy all the expectations, especially if the Treasury is not willing to allow additional public spending on post-compulsory education. So, the review team have a big job to do.”

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Alvexo on the matter.