Fees: “Almost impossible to understand”

According to a piece in the Guardian.

Some students have been put off applying because the funding system is now among the most complex in the world, says the report by the consultancy London Economics, commissioned by Million+, a group representing former polytechnic universities previously known as the Coalition of Modern Universities. “The combination of differential fees, fee loans, maintenance loans, fee grants, maintenance grants, bursaries and the education maintenance allowance make the entire package almost impossible to understand,” it says.

Millions

Even if it is accepted that the system is complicated, it clearly cannot be so incredibly difficult otherwise no-one would actually be entering HE. And part of the deal over fees remains that institutions have a mission to explain. Universities have to tell applicants about the costs but also about the bursaries and grants available to them.

Numbers entering HE continue to rise so clearly some are understanding what is going on. As for the impact on widening participation, it is not clear that students from non-traditional or lower family income backgrounds are being deterred. Moreover, the argument has been that it is fear of debt (misplaced) rather than complexity which is acting as a deterrent. Can it be both?

And anyway, shouldn’t the brightest graduates of tomorrow have the core numeracy skills required to understand a system of fees, grants, loans and bursaries?

The report itself is available here and it is clearly a little more measured than the press release which prompted this story, highlighting the need for whole system review rather than piecemeal change but also the complications caused by the differences across countries within the UK.

(And as for the entertaining rebranding of CMU as Million+, see the Mortarboard for details.)

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Understanding a little more about WP

An important new report on some of the biggest challenges in widening participation.

The report focuses on areas with the lowest HE progression rates: between 8% and 13% of 18- and 19-year-olds in these constituencies pursue a higher education course at a university or further education college, compared with 33% nationally.

The argument is about “embedding” partnerships according to HEFCE:

Universities and colleges need to continue to develop a strong understanding of the wider communities in which they operate in order to develop more focused and relevant interventions which will reach young people from lower social class backgrounds, according to a report published today. The report, Young participation in Higher Education in the Parliamentary constituencies of Birmingham Hodge Hill, Bristol South, Nottingham North and Sheffield Brightside, commissioned by HEFCE in 2005 consolidates the findings of four in-depth case studies which aimed to explore the factors that might lie behind the very low rates of young participation in higher education in those parliamentary constituencies.

The summary report highlights the need for universities and colleges to consider how their strategies to widen participation can be embedded directly within the educational provision for the constituencies in which they operate. While acknowledging that higher education institutions (HEIs) cannot tackle all the issues facing these communities in isolation, the report recommends that institutions do need to have a strong, sustainable presence in low participation neighbourhoods and consider ‘ways in which they can make significant and measurable contributions to the social, educational and economic transformation of these areas’.

See also detailed piece in the Guardian.

Challenging stuff.