Light at the end of the tunnel for students in ongoing battle over tuition fees

Seb Day 3 May 2014

After intense scrutiny surrounding the self-defeating nature of government increases in tuition fees, Universities UK have responded to pressure by announcing the establishment of a panel to investigate the current student fees and loan system, sparking hopes for reform.

This announcement follows recent revelations about the almost comical failings of the new tuition fee system, a situation which Ed Miliband explained to The Cambridge Student on Thursday was "frankly a nonsense", he indicated that it was unacceptable that "government has raised tuition fees and it’s costing more than the previous system".

Major concerns in Westminster have been the fact that the new loan system is not financially viable and crucially that it has put students off going to university. According to a report, the baseline estimated total taxpayer contribution is only 5% lower in the new loans system, introduced in 2012. The panel will thus focus on looking at how the cost of providing tuition fee and maintenance loans can be reduced.

The panel, which is set to invite the National Union of Students (NUS) to contribute to the review, will consist of university vice-chancellors and policy experts outside the sector. The review aims to make recommendations to the student finance system up to, and following, the 2015 General Election.

Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, President of Universities UK and chair of the new panel, said: “The student funding system must be accessible for all students who have the desire and ability to benefit from university, regardless of their financial background. “

However, it appears that the tuition fee rise has had less impact at Cambridge than in many other universities. All regions of the country saw a dip in the number of applicants in the 2012 cycle, but statistics from UCAS show that institutions with an October deadline, such as Cambridge, do not appear to have been greatly affected by the fee rise.

Considering this, a spokesperson for the university told TCS“Cambridge has one of the most generous and flexible financial support schemes in the country, offering a bursary worth up to £3,500 pa to students from low income households.”

When asked whether she would have been deterred by the higher fees, Abi See, a mathematician at Queens’ college, told TCS “I wouldn't have been deterred from going to Cambridge" but was quick to point our her good fortune in having a family who can support her, conceding: "I realise not everyone has that privilege.”

Fourth year Masters Student Kai Wong agreed, voicing his concerns regarding the fee increases and welcoming the review panel, he noted: “The fees were an important factor, and I don't think I would have come to Cambridge if I did not receive a partial scholarship.”