Written by Isobel.
All views are Isobel's.
If you haven't already seen from my Facebook posts, I recently took a trip to the House of Lords to discuss the Augar Review. As one of twenty Students' Unions there, I was proud to represent Hull students and be the voice of a northern SU. I want to make sure Hull is heard on a national level.
The event was run by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Students, and was a chance for Dr Augar to hear from Students' Unions across England about areas of concern. (If you haven't read my report of the Augar review, you can do so here.)
The event only lasted around an hour, but I made sure my question was heard within the limited time.
I asked the panel about the proposal to take away foundation year funding, and what their thoughts were on how this would hinder widening participation. You can check out my previous blog post about the impact of removing foundation funding, here.
I felt like the panel hadn't really considered many factors, beyond the cost of fees, as their answer was that access courses were cheaper than foundation courses. I felt that this ignored large chunks of evidence of the benefits of foundation years, and there was no explanation as to why both access and foundation years could not both continue to be funded.
TALKING WITH PHILIP AUGAR
After leaving the event a bit frustrated, myself and Sunny Suntosh Kaur (UCLAN SU Pres) decided to talk to Philip Augar directly. This conversation proved really useful and made the trip worthwhile. I asked about the following:
HIGH AND LOW VALUE COURSES
We initially spoke about the recommendations of high and low values courses. This is something I don't feel is beneficial to students, as ultimately it will result in less money for 'low value' courses, such like the arts.
We asked who would determine what is of low/high value and the fairness of these decisions. In particular, we shared our confusion as to why this recommendation did not make reference to TEF.
I expressed my view that removing foundation year funding was not the right answer to tackling the disparity in cost between access courses and foundation years. I raised the question about putting pressure on Universities to lower fees for foundation year courses, as then both options could be funded. Although we did note that the extra services, resources and provisons you may get with a University experience may justify the higher cost.
Philip Augar did acknowledge that these were good points, giving me confidence that this needed to be pursued further. There is a lot of evidence that seemingly did not get taken into account when putting forward this recommendation.
FUNDING FOR NURSING STUDENTS
I highlighted here that the report had missed out the funding issue for nurses (and other students who study for three trimesters). Getting the same maintenance as those studying two trimesters is not equitable and should be recognised.
I am grateful for the time that Philip Auguar took to speak to us afterwards and asked one final question around how Hull can input in future discussions, as we're now not affiliated with the NUS.
He directed us to Bev Robinson OBE, who has taken my contact details. She fully understands concerns about being a northern university and the difficulties it can pose in getting to London, compared to local Students' Unions.
LUNCH WITH AN MP
After talking to Philip Augar, we wanted to give some feedback on the event. We spoke to the Chair, MP Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central Constituency) about the barriers of attending such events (in terms of cost and time) and because of these factors, explained that we wanted get the most of events we could attend.
The conversation went so well that we were invited to lunch, to continue discussions.
We gave him feedback on all things Augar, in particular:
- Tutition fee reduction will only benefit high earners
- Graduates will be paying off tutition fees well into retirement
- Graduates will be paying more back and earning less than current graduates
- Removing foundation year funding will hinder widening participation and ignores demand and success of foundation year courses. Removing funding also doesn't address the issue of expense.
- Valuing degrees as 'high' and 'low' is potentially very damaging: the art subjects will receive less funding, the quality of teaching may suffer from less funding and so, therefore, may the student experience, the impact may be detrimental to resources and services (i.e. mental health provision) as we know tutition fees go towards these types of services
- Students studying three trimesters are disadvantaged by Student Finance
- The recommendation of greater transparency on the cost of student accommodation does not help solve the the issue of intial cost
I am really pleased he took the time to listen and to take on board our thoughts. It's great to see the reach of our work on the Augar report, as he was keen to read more about our opinions.
VISITING SOUTH BANK STUDENTS' UNION
It was the perfect way to round off our London experience and I loved learning about how other SUs represent students and connecting with some other amazing Presidents. I've already started thinking about how I can bring other ideas back to Hull.