By Sumayyah Daisy Lane, BA History
On Monday, February 19, Prime Minister Theresa May set out the details of the Tory government’s delayed long-year review of the UK’s higher education fees. During the speech, May admitted to the UK being home to “one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world”, with current tuition fees for undergraduate university courses reaching a whopping £9,250 per year.
To this end, it has been decided that an independent body will conduct the review to investigate university funding, high tuition fees and ways to reduce costs, and bring back maintenance grants for disadvantaged students.
Tuition fees will not be scrapped. However, the student loan repayment threshold is also set to increase from £21,000 to £25,000 in April 2018. May has promised to freeze current fees for the duration of the review and hinted at potentially implementing lower fees for humanities and social science degrees – a proposal that has been heavily criticised on the basis that it may deter students from studying STEM subjects.
Furthermore, the proposal deprecates the value universities that offer mainly humanity subjects, such as SOAS. Many have expressed concerns about this idea as it may result in an ‘education hierarchy’. Labour’s pledge to both reintroduce maintenance grants and scrap tuition fees altogether in the run-up to last year’s election proved popular amongst young voters. But the Tories claim such drastic measures would both cause a rise in taxes and cost the government far too much; university fees bring in a total of £11bn a year.
The review’s launch comes at the same time as the UCU strike against changes to pensions, as well as the news that the salaries of vice-chancellors at UK universities have increased by more than 50 per cent. It has also been revealed that 95 per cent of vice-chancellors attend the committee meetings that regulate their own pay.
According to SOAS’ last Annual Equality and Diversity report in 2016, BME students make up 55% of SOAS students and BME staff has risen to 39.2%, both of whom stand to lose the most in the face of rising fees and pension cuts.The higher education sector is currently in crisis, with the president of Universities UK saying the system should be “better understood and feel fairer to students”. There are numerous expectations from this review, with the findings set to be released in 2019.