The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee's report, "Treating Students Fairly", makes a detailed case for major reforms of post school education, including more spending on further education and an overhaul of the way the system is regulated. The Committee's 13 members (chaired by former Minister, Michael Forsyth and which includes 2 former Chancellors of the Exchequer) make 42 recommendations in their report which runs to 155 pages and which is based on evidence collected from more than 150 witnesses. The Committee makes use of written evidence from AoC and a fact finding visit to WCG's Warwickshire College.
Julian Gravatt, Deputy Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, who gave evidence in person, said: "The Economic Affairs Committee are a powerful new voice in arguing for changes to the funding and organisation of further and higher education. Current arrangements place too much emphasis on full-time degrees taken by young adults immediately after they finish their A levels. The system is expensive for graduates and is not well set up for a generation who will face 50-year working lives. The Committee suggests reforms to make higher education more flexible, apprenticeships more relevant and further education more available. The government's Post-18 review is an opportunity to take these issues forward."
The committee's chair, Michael Forsyth explains the report in this article. The Committee's recommendations include:
- a shift towards a single fair and balanced system for education at Level 4 and above under the overview of a single agency (the Office for Students). The committee say that funding should come from a mixture of student loans and teaching grants. The recommend changes to promote flexible and part-time learning and also argue for the restoration of funding for Level 4 and 5 courses in FE colleges (recommendations 7 to 15).
- the creation of single funding and regulatory agency with responsibility for Level 3 and below with similar status to OFS ('a council') plus "uncapped state funding (on a tariff basis) for all students, full and part time, irrespective of age, for their first qualification at Level 3 (recommendations 15 to 16).
- some big reforms to apprenticeships including the dropping of the 3 million apprenticeship target, the merger of the Institute of Apprenticeships into the new FE agency and the ending of MBA apprenticeships. The committee argue there should be a plan for degree apprenticeships (recommendations 20 to 24).
- the removal of incentives to schools to priorities progression to university. Schools should offer information on all routes and there should be a better, national system for admission into non-university routes (recommendations 25 to 26)
- the student loan interest rate should be cut to government borrowing rate (1.5%) with repayments only starting at graduation (recommendation 28)
- the pre-2016 higher education maintenance grants system should be restored. Maintenance loan size should be increased (to match actual living costs. Maintenance loans should be available for all courses at Level 4 and above (not just those in Institutes of Technology. There should be different maintenance amounts for diff qualis. (recommendation 34 to 37)
- the government accounting for student loans should be regularised.