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The Browne Review explained

The Browne review on higher education funding is due to be announced tomorrow. Judith Hawkins explains what the outcome of this could mean for students.

Q: What exactly is the Browne review? A: Launched last November, the Browne review is officially known as the Independent Review of Higher Education Funding and Student Finance. Led by former BP chief executive Lord Browne, it aims to identify ways of meeting the rising demand for university places despite cuts to higher education funding.

Q: What could the review potentially mean for students?
A: Currently students in England pay £3,290 per year for tuition fees, but there is speculation that the Browne review will suggest this limit is increased to £7,000. Alternatively tuition fees could be replaced or subsidised by a graduate tax system, while other money-saving suggestions include reducing some degrees from three to two years and having more students studying part-time.

Q: What involvement has the University of Birmingham had in the review? A: Birmingham is part of the Russell Group of universities, which has made submissions to the Browne review calling for the international reputation of UK universities not to be put at risk from underfunding. Birmingham’s Vice-Chancellor Professor David Eastwood is also a member of the review panel.

Q: What is the coalition government’s stance on student fees?
A: The Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, described the current system as a, ‘burden on the taxpayer that had to be tackled’, with the Conservatives announcing before the General Election that they would wait until the Browne review before confirming their higher education policy. The Liberal Democrats planned to get rid of tuition fees over six years until this was considered unaffordable in the current economic climate. At their first conference since the formation of the coalition, Vince Cable backed a graduate tax system where the amount paid back by graduates is related to their income.

Q: What is the Labour opposition’s stance on student fees?
A: The policy of students contributing to their tuition fees came into force under the previous Labour government, but the new Labour leader Ed Miliband has announced that he instead wants to scrap tuition fees in favour of a graduate tax.

Q: Will the coalition government automatically put the Browne review’s recommendations into place?
A: This is far from definite, with the Conservatives having stated that they would wait for, but not be bound by, the review’s conclusions. Moreover 56 out of 58 Liberal Democrat MPs, including Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, have signed an NUS pledge that they would oppose a rise in student fees. As part of the coalition agreement the Liberal Democrat MPs can abstain from voting on this issue, although this could just lead to the Conservatives making the decision on whether to raise student fees or not themselves. The outcome of the Browne review therefore, is likely to be another interesting test of coalition politics.


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