‘The Hughes Report’: Lib Dem MP’s 33 recommendations to improve access to higher education

Last week saw the publication by Simon Hughes, the Government’s advocate for higher education access, of his report for the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister on how more young people can be encouraged to apply for university. It’s received little attention, perhaps understandably given the current frenetic news cycles — but it’s a shame because the report is a serious piece of work.

Though 45 pages long in total, it presents clearly, readably and concisely 33 recommendations designed to ensure that everyone, from young to old, has the chance to experience higher education. You can read the report in full below, but there are five aspects which struck me as worth highlighting:

  • Importance of early years: the report recommends that, from primary age onwards, ‘schools can play an important role in motivating children to think about their future career and start working towards achieving their dreams’. These range from work experience opportunities to, in particular, ensuring proper advice is available at age 13-14 ‘when a young person starts to make the choices of courses influenced by the qualifications they hope for and the careers they plan.’
  • Financial education for young people is vital: Simon points out that the decisions made by 13-16 year-olds ‘will have large scale effects on their future finances, whether choosing higher education, leaving school at 16 and going to work, or going into apprenticeship or training. They are expected to take these decisions at the same time as taking into account future earnings, money management during their courses and, in the case of higher education, knowledge about the system for paying for their degree.’ It’s a big ask, and Martin Lewis’s efforts at MoneySavingExpert.com — and in particular his work to present the ’20 key facts’ about tuition fees — are particularly welcomed.
  • Call to action for all leaders: Simon notes: ‘When they have explained to them accurately the monthly repayment which graduates will be required to pay under the new system for student finance, young people and their families are almost always greatly reassured and encouraged about the benefits of going on to university.’ Critics of tuition fees (such as Simon) can and will continue to oppose the Coalition’s policy; but they should avoid the language of scare-tactics which risk becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy. There is a responsibility for all — political parties, student leaders, unions — to show leadership here. Though the tribal, knee-jerk response of University and College union general secretary Sally Hunt (“What exactly is the point of this report?”) suggests this hope may remain firmly aspirational.
  • No populist attacks on universities: in contrast to David Cameron’s over-compensating tendency ignorantly to slam the UK’s top universities for ‘disgraceful’ admissions processes, Simon’s approach is more measured (and accurate): ‘Although there has been a marked increase in the number of people from poorer and non-traditional backgrounds attending university over the last five years, universities can still do more and the most selective universities can do much more.’
  • Guaranteed scholarships for bright, low-income students: This is the recommendation which has, rightly, received most attention: ‘If 10,000 scholarships from the national scholarship programme were allocated [to a certain number of students in every secondary school, sixth form and FE college who satisfied a minimum UCAS tariff points score and who came from a family with an income below a certain level] then every school and sixth form and FE college could have on average three scholarships available to them.’ While all universities offer financial aid to students, the amount is only known once their application has been successful — merit-based, needs-based scholarships which underwrite students’ access to universities could make a huge difference to students considering applying to university.

The Hughes Report

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  • Fees.

  • Gareth Jones 24th Jul '11 - 3:57pm

    @ g – Graduate Tax in all but name.

  • @Gareth – except you’d be paying tax for the rest of your life, fortunately for the least well off graduates among us, their student debt gets written off after 30 years, even if they somehow never managed to pay a penny off it.

  • Dismayed to see that you’re still trotting out the line that these reforms are progressive. HE reform is an absolute disaster, as almost anyone working in the sector (who is not a Lib Dem loyalist) will tell you. Funding is dire, fees are putting off poorer students, there is still no coherent strategy for postgrad funding. And you know what the worst thing is? On free market grounds UK universities can’t compete with EU institutions, for a €1,000 or so and the right grades you can get an education as good as at any Russell Group Uni in France, Germany, Netherlands and many other countries. You can even do these degrees in English. The UK no longer offers value for money for EU residents and immigration controls restrict the market for non-EU students.

    A deliberate plan to cripple the future education of the UK would be indistinguishable from the current mess.

  • hey g – I loathe the fees policy too, but just for a laugh, do share with us the Labour policy? Oh, I remember, there isn’t one.

  • Gareth Jones 25th Jul '11 - 2:19pm

    @ g – I am against fees for FE and HE but as this I believe is still party policy. I also think we should have kept our pledge. Hgowever,what we got was better than the options put forward by the NUS and Labour. I also agree the entire structure of FE/HE needs a fundamental rethink, not just fees. However, if you post a one word comment meant to cause offence you shouldn’t expect a essay or detailed debate in response.

  • Alistair, pre-election Labour’s policy was some graduate contribution via fees and state funding to make up the difference. The policy is now extensive graduate contribution and massively reduced state funding.

    What was the Lib Dem policy?

  • Alistair, pre-election Labour’s policy was some graduate contribution via fees and state funding to make up the difference. The current government policy is now extensive graduate contribution and massively reduced state funding.

    What was the Lib Dem policy?

  • LondonLiberal 25th Jul '11 - 2:30pm

    g – er, no. pre-election labopur policy on HE was this (from their manifesto):
    “The review of higher education funding chaired by Lord Browne will report later this year. Our aim is to continue the expansion of higher education, widening access still further, while ensuring that universities and colleges have a secure, long-term funding base that protects world-class standards in teaching and research. Ahead
    of the review, we have provided universities with funding to recruit an extra 20,000 students this year.”

    nowhere does the policy state a mix of fees and state funding (which in any event is that the current situation is, just a different balance of the two than previously). Bottom line is that Labour introduced fees after promising not to, they set up the Browne review, and they priomised 20,000 extra places they didn’t have any funding for. Liars, damned liars. at least the Tories are honest in their contempt for people.

  • Gareth Jones 25th Jul '11 - 2:53pm

    I apologise for the bad spelling and grammar in my last post. I was typing on my phone and you can’t see the whole text box at the same time. 🙁

  • LondonLiberal, Labour had no plans to cut the HE budget, nor to use tuition fees to make up that shortfall.

  • LondonLiberal 25th Jul '11 - 3:58pm

    g – labour had no plans to do anything specific after the election that involved any cuts. In the midst of the biggest depression since the 1930s they only planned to spend money, a la 20,000 new student places. That sort of deceitful arrogance and financial imprudence is one of the many reasons people lost faith in them. Sorry, g, however let down you feel by the libdems, suggesting that labour were any better is simply untenable.

  • Having just scrapped Aim Higher and Education Business Partnerships, the proposal now appears to be that someone should do the work they used to do. Perhaps the government should think through at least one policy before it acts.

  • David Allen 25th Jul '11 - 7:23pm

    “suggesting that labour were any better is simply untenable”

    Fair comment I think, but, past history. What matters now is future policy – and its credibilty of course.

  • I think the elephant in the room here is what the consequences will be of fees being much higher than the government has planned for.

    If that results in a significant reduction in the total number of university places, that will far outweigh Simon Hughes’s no doubt well-meaning suggestions about education, encouragement and providing more scholarships (and three per school sounds a pretty small number).

  • “……just a different balance of the two than previously”

    heh, you should send that as a memo to all politicans – “it’s not a u-turn, it’s just a different balance” 🙂

  • how is the current policy a graduate tax in all but name?????? the crucial element of a graduate tax is it is proportional to earnings hence someone who cant get regular work after uni would pay nothing and someone who is exceedingly rich would pay far more (unlike now when they can pay it off in no time). i hardly think the wipe off after 30 years is a redeemable feature – who wants to work all their life with that debt hanging over them. stop telling yourself its all brilliant just students are too stupid to realise it was what they wanted all along.

  • ex-lib-dem,

    all the evidence points to current HE policy as being worse than Labour’s pre 2010 policies in terms off access, funding and quality. The inability to accept this from many Lib Dems is indicative of the dangers of retreating to tribalism. Very few Lib Dems would have supported this policy before May last year, but as it has come from the leadership they feel duty bound to support it, right or wrong, as long as they are in power. It’s really quite sad to see a party that once espoused a rational approach to policy to go so very badly wrong.

  • LondonLiberal 27th Jul '11 - 11:52am

    ex libdem – the repayment scheme of the current/new policy is proportional to income, like a graduate tax. i’m no great fan of the current policy but i can at least see the similarity there.

  • Lifelong education should be free to the recipient and financed from progressive taxation system. I would vote for a party that advocated that policy. Sadly, as far as I know, none of the parties support such a policy even though most of their leaders benefitted from free or mostly-free university education.

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