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The Browne Review- How we can Represent Students’ Interests.

As you may well already know, today the review led by Lord Browne has recommended that the cap on tuition fees should be unlimited with a ‘soft cap’ marking the limit of money each Student can borrow for fees each year from the Government of £6,000. Browne’s recommendations also include that:

-Maintenance loans become  capped at £3,750

-All debts should be repaid with interest at a level equivalent to government borrowing (this would be 5.3% at current levels)[1]

-Student numbers could rise by 10% or 30,000 over three years.

The full report can be found here.

I believe that it is unfair that students could be burdened with the mortgage-style debts that Lord Browne recommends, simply for wishing to further their own education. Whilst I fully acknowledge that the government is in a precarious financial position, I do not believe that it should punish students because of this. In order to progress out of recession and financial difficulty we need to ensure that we are equipping the brightest and best learners in the UK with the skills and knowledge that will help to rebuild and restructure our national economy. Saddling students with the potential debts of £30,000 is not the way to encourage this.

Lord Browne’s recommendations go further than just tuition fees by suggesting that the government should withdraw public funding from all but certain ‘priority’ subjects. Whilst clinical medicine, nursing, science, technology and modern languages will receive priority, arts and humanities will inevitably suffer as a consequence of this. Are these disciplines not useful to the economy too in providing critical thinkers and graduates with strong analytical and research skills?

The increase recommended by the Browne Review can only be detrimental to the absolute necessity of providing the best graduates with a balanced range of skills across the overall population; it will only serve to restrict University access for those from less affluent socio-economic backgrounds and create a class and wealth-based higher education system, rather than one that develops and enhances the brightest and best candidates. The review promises much financial support to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds but the simple fact is that these students will still accumulate more debt. It is the students that come from the socio-economic middle ground that will lose out because of this, through not receiving the necessary financial support. In a recent survey conducted by the NUS and the bank HSBC, 70% of current students indicated that they would have to reconsider their pursuit of Higher Education if fees were raised to £7,000 per year,[2] which is now a possibility for leading institutions that wish to charge above the ‘soft’ cap of £6,000 per year.

As students we cannot sit back and allow this to happen. SUSU is mandated by its union council to resist any rise in tuition fees and as stated in my manifesto, I stand against this grossly unfair financial burden that could be placed upon students.

The key point to emphasize is that the recommendations of the Browne Review are by no means final. Whilst they will most definitely have a significant bearing upon the direction that the government takes higher education, they will not automatically become accepted as law. The outcome of the comprehensive spending review (due on October 20th) will have a significant effect in signalling how the government intends to fund higher education and thus what financial shortfall it expects students to contribute to. By making our voice heard, we can stop Browne’s recommendations from becoming law and look towards a financially fairer and meritocratic system where any gifted student, regardless of background, can flourish at the institution of their choice.

It should also be taken into account that certain elements of Lord Browne’s recommendations do mark a positive step forwards for students. All new academics wishing to teach would have to undertake teacher training; this is a positive step towards higher teaching standards. Lord Browne has also highlighted the significance of each University having student charter: a document outlining exactly what a student gets from the University during their studies. This is something I am currently working on with the University and hope to report back on soon. Repayments would also begin upon earning £21,000 p/a rather than £15,000 p/a, giving many graduates a fairer deal upon entering full-time employment.

We need our MPs to stop the financially detrimental outcomes for students of Lord Browne’s review from becoming accepted in Parliament. Regardless of their party policy, MPs sit in Parliament to represent us, their constituents. We have a duty make them aware of our opinions.

How can we let them know our views?

First of all, SUSU needs to know what you think- we need the biggest mandate as a lobbying organisation to take to the MPs that serve our different campuses to indicate what our members think. Let us know your opinion by filling out our survey here and we can be sure as a lobbying organisation that we are representing you properly.

A great way to get involved in this debate is to come to the NUS/UCU “Fund Our Future: Stop Education Cuts” Demonstration in London on 10/11/10. We want to take as many Students as possible. For more info and to sign up, go here.

We are also holding a ‘question time’ event with the Vice Chancellor and local MPs on Friday October 29th– we will be giving you more information on this soon. Come along and make your opinions known to your elected representatives.

Finally, I have already written to the MPs that serve our campuses in Southampton, Winchester, Basingstoke, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, as well as to the MP for North Southampton and Romsey, whose constituency includes Glen Eyre, Chamberlain and Wessex Lane Halls of Residence. I urge you to get in contact with your MP too. Feel free to write to your MP at your term-time address, as well as the one that represents the address that you may return to during the holidays- the more emails/letters we send the better. Fill in your details on the letter below (your postcode is essential) and using the widget below you can find out your MP’s email address. Feel free to add to the letter if you so wish.

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Dear…………….MP

I am writing to you in light of the publication of Lord Browne’s review into higher education funding to express to you the extent of my concerns with regards to the review’s proposal to raise the cap on tuition fees to a potentially unlimited amount.

I believe that raising the cap to £6,000 and potentially beyond will create too heavy a burden upon Students, saddling them with mortgage-style debts. I understand that the Government needs to make financial savings but I do not believe that this should come at the expense of Students, especially in light of the government signalling financial cuts in the University sector. It appears to me as if Students will be paying more for less.

This raise of the cap will clearly limit access to Higher Education for many of those who aspire towards the pursuit of learning from less affluent socio-economic backgrounds. In a recent survey conducted by the NUS and HSBC, 70% of current students indicated that they would have to reconsider their pursuit of Higher Education if fees were raised to £7,000; a situation that would be highly plausible if Lord Browne’s recommendations were to be carried through. Our Universities should be attracting the Country’s brightest and best Students, not merely those who can afford to study.

As my Parliamentary representative, I hope that you will represent my beliefs on this issue and will lobby and vote against increasing the tuition fees cap when this issue is brought to Parliament. In doing so, I hope that you will call for a suitable alternative that represents a fairer deal for Students without burdening them with increased and excessive levels of debt.

I believe very strongly that raising the cap on tuition fees to a potentially unlimited amount is grossly unfair and would be pleased if you could let me know what your beliefs on this issue are.

Yours Sincerely,

……………………..



[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/8057347/Lord-Browne-review-the-key-points-explained.html

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/7987237/University-students-driven-out-by-7000-fees.html

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