> Tuition fees row: education expert warns over graduate earnings

World: Tuition fees row: education expert warns over graduate earnings

2017/09/16

Graduates do not get as good a return on their investment in English system as in other OECD nations, says Andreas Schleicher

A leading world education expert has intervened in the row over student tuition fees in England, warning about price for money as earnings for graduates become additional volatile.

Andreas Schleicher, the education director of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Improvment(OECD), endorsed the English system in which students pay annual tuition fees of £9,000 through loans, saying it had provided sustainability to the sector which had been able to expand as a result.

But he sounded a note of caution about outcomes for students, warning that earnings for UK graduates did not provide as good a return on their investment in their education as elsewhere in OECD nations.“The UK system is probably the majority sustainable,” he said. “The one caveat I would make is that the returns are becoming additional volatile and additional varied. The earnings returns in England are not as good as in some other nations.”

Schleicher’s intervention comes as the government is reported to be considering ways to reduce the cost burden on university students, following a summer of hostile headlines about soaring vice-chancellor pay and rising student deficit.

Labour is to force a parliamentary vote to scrap the government’s new rise in university tuition fees on Wednesday . Under the government’s plan, the annual tuition fee cap of £9,000 is to rise by £250 a year, increasing the deficit of a student on a four-year course by £1,000 in general.

Speaking in London at the launch of a OECD education survey on Tuesday, Schleicher agreed that tuition fees were high in England and warned against a wholesale lifting of the £9,000 cap. “If you want to see what happens at the same time as you drop the cap, look to the US where you get some institutions charging exorbitant fees. Markets are not a great mechanism on this.”

But he said he thought there could be better flexibility in tuition fees in England which could in some instances go up even higher if the learning experience and teaching quality improved in universities, where the focus has long been on research quality rather than teaching quality. “Teaching quality is a major challenge in the UK,” he said.

The Conservative peer Lord Willetts, however, as well speaking on Tuesday at a separate event on the next of tuition fees, criticised the idea of forcing some English universities to lower their fees from the forthcoming £9,250 maximum – an idea said to be under discussion within government – warning against judgments about “good” and “bad” universities.

The former universities and science minister, quoted in Times Higher Education, said he was opposed to the introduction of different levels of fees at different universities, saying that the “best and simplest system by far is £9,000 for everyone”.

The OECD statement, Education at a Glance 2017, compares the national of education globally, providing data on the structure, finances and performance of education systems in the 35 OECD nations, plus a number of partner nations.

The statement reveals particularly low levels of public funding in tertiary education in the UK, with just 28% of spending from the public purse, compared with the OECD average of 70%. Just under 50% comes from household spending – in other words tuition fees paid for by student loans – additional than double the OECD average of 22%.

While Schleicher was broadly supportive of the UK’s lower than average public investment in tertiary education, he said the UK should increase its public spending on early years which is part the lowest across OECD nations.

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