Changes to the higher education funding system due to the government passing the bill to raise tuition fees has caused anger amongst students and prompted the National Union of Students to publically challenge the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, to explain why his party supports such actions.
The reforms relate to the tuition fee waiver scheme, which the NUS President, Liam Burns, labelled ‘disastrous’, calling for Nick Clegg to attend the NUS Annual Conference in Sheffield later in the year. The scheme encourages universities to allocate money not to scholarships and bursaries, but instead to use fee waivers; a system that the NUS claims will leave students out of pocket.
The £150m National Scholarship Programme, seen by many as a means of placating wavering Lib Dems, will reward average fees of under £7,500 and therefore promote universities to adopt the fee waiver scheme. The NUS, however, claim that this will lead to far less money reaching students and only benefit those who can pay off their debts in under 30 years. The NUS further assert that changes to the Higher Education funding policy has caused a loss of £13.8m away from students’ wallets and that by 2015 this figure will rise to £70m.
Currently, 25 universities have altered their Access Agreements for students, with many adopting the National Scholarship Programme and allocating funding away from scholarships and bursaries and towards fee waivers. It is manoeuvres like this that the NUS say will ensure students will be put out of pocket.
Mr Burns declared that: ‘Fee waivers are a con trick that will only benefit graduates who are earning enough to pay off their student loans within 30 years. They help the Treasury, who have to spend less on loans, but are of no benefit to students whatsoever.’
Burns went on to say that ‘the perverse incentives of the Government’s changes mean that poorer pupils are encouraged towards courses and universities that have less funding; a complete reverse of the “pupil premium” that Mr Clegg has championed for younger learners.’
The NUS aren’t the only organization to critique the National Scholarship Programme; several educational thinktanks, as well as the Labour Shadow Universities Minister, Gareth Thomas, have suggested that the scheme will only complicate the now already convoluted system of Higher Education. It is yet to be ascertained whether or not Nick Clegg will address NUS students as Burns has requested and defend his party and policy.