The Augar Review, an independent review which was ordered by the Prime Minister in February 2018, has this week published its 53 recommendations for the Government to further boost the viability of the post-18 education system.
The expert panel, emphasised as a wide-ranging remit of experts and led by Philip Augar, highlighted the overwhelming strengths of the UK’s education system, but noted that on an international scale, we aren’t doing quite as well as we’d like to.
We’re a country that strives for the best, but our Post-18 Education sector isn’t quite there yet, and hasn’t been for a while due to the sheer volume of policy changes the sector has faced.
Since the 1980s, it was reported that there have been 28 major pieces of legislation bearing on further education (FE), 48 secretaries of state with responsibility for the sector and many agencies created to support the Government’s role with FE.
Not only has the policy landscape been unsteady, but the changes to funding have had dramatic effects on the further education system. Within the Augar Review, it mentions that the budgetary administration rules have changed the landscape for FE colleges and placed a strain on their teaching time. More importantly, colleges are reporting classrooms with students studying the same qualification in four different ways, with four different funding rates and with four different criteria for funding.
When we look at what the sector has actually gone through, we’ve seen policy changes in the last five years including the rise of the tuition fee cap to £9,000 in 2012 (and we all remember that very awkward defeat for Nick Clegg during the Coalition Government!), the abolition of maintenance loans being scrapped in 2016 and the 2014 decision to limit funding for learners aged 24 or over so that they have to pay for Level 3 qualifications out of their own pocket.
The Augar Review presents a huge opportunity for the sector and has largely been welcomed by industry representatives and experts. Even the Prime Minister appeared to be relatively cheery about it when she gave her speech at the Policy Exchange shortly after the review was published.
There’s good reason to be cheerful about the review. Key recommendations include the reintroduction of maintenance grants, the cutting of tuition fees, and not to mention the boost for adult learning through additional funding.
But the sector is wary. As important as the Augar Review has been in shining a light on the problems faced by both the FE and HE sector, half of the battle is going to be the implementation of the recommendations. It will be interesting to see what the Government prioritises from the extensive list announced during the Spending Review, especially given that we’ll have a new Conservative leader in place by then.
The next Prime Minister will have a tricky balance to strike. It’s not going to be easy to find the finite line between enhancing a college’s reputations and funding, while protecting the funding given to English universities. The Spending Review will offer us a peek into the Government’s plan of action for the future, but for now, let’s enjoy what the Augar Review promises for the future viability of the FE sector.