In recent years, education, specifically higher education, stood as one of the most contentious topics of discussion in public policy forums and government policymaking in the UK. As witnessed, several academic changes have been instigated, others have remained pending, and in some quarters, significant reform packages have been put forward, on the drawing board ready for deliberations or are presently being deliberated upon.
In the UK and in other countries of the world, higher education is confronted with three problems - universities are inadequately funded, escalating apprehensions about quality, the dearth of student support, proportion of students coming from underprivileged environments is deplorably insignificant and the financing of universities is in the state of collapse since money is sourced from general taxation, however, the beneficiaries are those coming from more affluent conditions (Barr, 2003, p.371).
The plan to restructure higher education (HE) funding has caused so much controversy. Much of the wrangling has been centered on what the reforms will mean for those students coming from different family income backgrounds and the level of liabilities they will shoulder in their higher education experience. Likewise, apprehensions have been brought up on how the graduates will be affected by these debt repayments all through their working lives, as well as whether or not the funds raised will significantly improve the condition and circumstances of universities (Dearden, Fitzsimons & Goodman, 2004, p. 5)
Brief Statistics At present, there are 168 higher education institutions in the UK, of which 90 are universities. In the years 2002-2003, enrollees reached up to 2.2 million in UK universities and colleges. In England, the participation rate for 18-30 year olds in higher education was 44%. In the same period, there were 184,700 international students studying in the UK, as well as 90,600 from the EU. Universities employ more than 300,000 staff; 1.8% of the total UK labour force. UK's higher education generates an annual 4 billion in foreign earnings and education and training exports are worth 10.2 billion. Public funding of higher education per student dropped by 37% between 1989 and 2002. During the same period student numbers grew by 94%.
Source: Universities UK, Manifesto, General Election, 2005
A Quick Look at the Proposals
January 27, 2004 saw the endorsement of the Higher Education Bill by the MPs which aimed to eradicate tuition fees for students and institute variable fees of up to 3,000/year from years 2006-07. In this plan, graduates will be allowed a sponsored Graduate Contribution Scheme or GCS loan equal to the value of their fees. Likewise, graduates from 2009 will put in 9% of earnings over and above 13,925 every year to pay off the loan. In line with inflation, the outstanding value of the loan will expectedly increase each year, with any amount left unsettled after twenty-five years being cancelled.
Another scheme calls for students of underprivileged backgrounds to receive financial support of at least 300/year if full top-up fees will be charged by the institution. With the most recent proposals, students