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Major review of tuition fees and university funding launches

BMA hopes review will address falling medical school applications

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

The government has launched a full, independent review into post-18 education in England, which promises to look at ways of ensuring more people have a choice of high quality technical and academic options.

Doctors’ leaders have welcomed the review, saying that it should address the issue of falling numbers of people applying to medical school and the fact that, currently, some medical students qualify with £70,000 of debt.

Prime Minister Theresa May launched the review yesterday while speaking at Derby College, a further education college, saying said she wanted to improve quality, increase choice and ensure value for money in education.

The UK already had a globally recognised higher education system, with record rates of young people, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, going to university.

Despite this, she said, it was clear that the current post-18 system was not working as well as it could, so the review would ensure that post-18 education gave everyone a genuine choice between high quality technical, vocational and academic routes, while also ensuring students and taxpayers got value for money and employers could access the skilled workforce they needed.

The wide-ranging review will be informed by independent advice from an expert panel from across post 18-education, business and academia and will be chaired by Philip Augar, a leading author and former non-executive director of the Department for Education.

Education secretary Damian Hinds said: “Our post-18 education system has many strengths. It has a fantastic global reputation, we have record rates of disadvantaged students going to university and we are transforming technical education, so employers have access to the skills they need.

“However, with a system where almost all institutions are charging the same price for courses – when some clearly cost more than others and some have higher returns to the student than others – it is right that we ask questions about choice and value for money. We also need to look at the balance between academic study and technical education to ensure there is genuine choice for young people and that we are giving employers access to a highly skilled workforce.”

The panel’s report will be published at an interim stage and the review will conclude in early 2019.

BMA medical students committee co-chair Harrison Carter welcomed the review, saying: “The current costs incurred by medical students can see them graduating with up to £70K debt. This isn’t sustainable and the concern is that high fees and the accrual of high levels of debt act as a barrier to students from disadvantaged backgrounds entering medicine.

“While medicine remains an attractive course, applications to medical schools have been in decline in recent years and we would hope this review will consider the impact of higher fees on application rates and the progress made in widening participation in medicine.

“It is vital that universities have the necessary funding to ensure each student receives the best possible education. We therefore need assurances that medicine will receive the funding needed to make up for any reduction in fees.

“This is particularly important given the Government's commitment to increase the number of medical students from this year, and in order to ensure medicals schools continue to produce well-educated graduates.”

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