Clive Agnew: Response to the Augar Review

by | May 30, 2019 | SLT | 5 comments

The long-awaited report on funding of post-18 education in England (Augar Review) has been published and this note is the first response to members of our University.

Our University has contributed to many discussions around the Augar Review to express concern over potential adverse impacts and seek to influence the recommendations. We are now entering into a period of consideration of the recommendations though it should be noted that any change in tuition fees, including a reduction in the cap, requires the support of the new Prime Minister and legislation to be passed.

The headline proposal is a reduction in the maximum fee payable by UK (and currently EU) undergraduate students of £1,750 for those entering HE in 2021/22 and this fee cap is only increased in line with inflation from 2023/24. The report indicates that this loss of fee income will be replaced by direct government funding at least for some degrees. If universities are not compensated for this major loss of income there will be a significant impact on student experience including the support and education our students receive, and significant savings will need to be made.

If the recommendations are accepted by Parliament, the impacts of such a significant reduction in fee will be coming at a time when it is believed some universities are already facing severe financial hardship. Coupled with a possible reduction in applications of students from the EU and additional pension costs, the implications of these changes can have a major impact on the sustainability of the sector to deliver research and education. This is noted in the review on page 92, ‘these pressures can be offset by a growth in the number of UK students’.

Furthermore, the shape and size of higher education will be subject to change with impacts on social mobility and the sector’s ability to deliver highly qualified graduates. Using the Government’s methodology (TRAC) for assessing the costs of teaching undergraduate students for our University, the cost is on average almost equal to the current Home/EU fee. Teaching additional students at a loss is not an option and Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects would appear to be particularly vulnerable unless the increased costs of teaching in these areas are met by the Government via the teaching grant. The review does reference adjustment to the teaching grant to reflect different ‘reasonable’ subject costs plus the social and economic value to students and taxpayers. The review also mentions a welcome reintroduction of the maintenance grant for disadvantaged students. Of further note is the review makes recommendations for Further Education which may lead us to even greater collaboration across Greater Manchester.

The most pressing concerns are a significant reduction in tuition fee income compounded by uncertainty over changes in behaviour of potential students, which may affect student recruitment. Although it is possible that impacts could be felt as soon as this September on deferred entry, for example, a much longer timescale is likely for the proposed changes to be considered by Parliament, and hence implemented, particularly in the current uncertain political climate.

I believe our University is strong, diverse and resilient which gives me confidence in our ability to respond to the challenges posed by the Augar Review – if they are implemented. This is not only about the delivery of teaching, but challenges include all aspects of the student experience and require Professional Services and Academic colleagues to work together.

We are strengthening our ability to respond and manage change through investments in staff leadership (Inspiring Leaders Programme), teaching infrastructure (Manchester Engineering Campus Development; Simon Building, Coupland-3 Building) and IT (Modernisation programme). The Student Lifecycle and MyManchester projects will also aid our responsiveness. We need to be more agile and the Augar Review prompts us to think again about how we might change our delivery of teaching and student experience, find the ‘headroom’ for change and protect staff research time.

I would welcome your comments and thoughts on the Augar Review.

Professor Clive Agnew
Vice-President for Teaching, Learning and Students


  1. Tony Thornley

    I believe the focus of the Augur review on reducing fees by 20% is completely the wrong focus. University education should be focused on individuals who are going to generate considerable income for themselves and create opportunities for others as leaders of society. In this context a reduction in fees of L5250 over 3 years is inconsequential yet it can put all universities into difficulty. I believe the real problem is the system is providing the wrong type of education for a large number of individuals who attend university. This could be corrected by returning the former technical colleges to be focused on technical employment training and thereby reducing the number of universities who will deliver the leaders of tomorrow.

  2. Fidel Peacock

    Having skimmed through the whole report, what has caught my eye as a technical staff and as a steering group member of Technical Excellence at Manchester (TEaM), is that the report highlights the need for better technical education. I like to compare the relationship between technical staff and academics with the relationship between doctors and nurses. As such, it is my long term dream to see technical staff be embraced as much as the nursing profession. In terms of social responsibility, and being an elite HE institution rather than elitist institution, we need to think how we balance education and research with the breadth of abilities within our society.

    • Clive Agnew

      The Augar Review has looked across all of post-18 education and alongside consideration of HE, has made recommendations for technical education (skills), Further Education and specifically apprenticeships that we will need to consider. I note for example there is a recommendation that universities offer an interim award at levels 4 and 5 i.e. certificate/diploma for undergraduate students completing years 1 and 2 of their degree. We have focused upon level 6 degree qualifications i.e. BA/BSc and used certificates and diplomas as an exit award for an unsuccessful student. The Augar Review prompts us to consider using these awards differently. The review also promotes degree apprenticeships, which we are already engaged in but only in a small way.
      Regards, Clive

  3. Jonathan Sly

    The proposed withdrawal of funding for Foundation Year students would have a major impact in FSE, where the Integrated Foundation Programme plays a vital role in addressing WP, access and diversity issues.
    It is suggested that a special case might be made for foundation courses for medicine, due to its ‘subject-specific entry requirements’. I hope that a strong case will be made that STEM subjects also have subject-specific entry requirements.
    This recommendation is aimed at pushing people onto cheaper Access Diplomas. Some of these are good courses but they don’t deliver significant numbers of students directly to first year in FSE (most science and engineering ‘Access’ students only get to first year at Manchester via the Foundation Programme).

    • Clive Agnew

      Whether the recommendation impacts in the way anticipated is yet to be determined but is receiving attention as you note. We have two foundation routes, one with a local college and a second that is an in-house programme. The latter is well established and looks to aid student mobility both for those who have been disadvantaged and for those wishing to change subject direction. Of course enhancing student mobility is a key objective of the Augar Review. A key statement is on page 103, ‘there may be compelling reasons why HE courses with subject-specific entry requirements – for example, Medicine – should offer foundation years as an entry route for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, but this does not seem to be how these courses are, in the main, being deployed’ . We will need to reflect upon the recommendation concerning foundation years noting the challenge to support social mobility while recognising it is yet to be accepted.


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