Former education secretary Justine Greening warns cheaper degree plans could stifle social mobility
Justine Greening has warned ministers that proposals to make some degrees cheaper than others could see poorer students miss out on courses they want to study.
The former education secretary suggested the move mooted by her successor Damian Hinds risked inadvertently hitting the disadvantaged.
Writing in the Sunday Times this morning, Mr Hinds said courses that were cheaper to run, less employment-oriented and less value to the economy could be cheaper.
The move would usher in fee cuts to arts and social science degrees, while science and engineering subjects could attract a higher rate.
However Ms Greening, who was removed from her post in last month’s reshuffle, said it could leave poorer students unable to "unlock their potential".
"I think the... thing that really matters from my perspective is social mobility," she told ITV’s Peston on Sunday.
"And making sure that we don’t end up with a system where young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds feel like they ought to do one of the cheaper degrees rather than doing the degree that they actually want that will really unlock their potential in future."
Ms Greening also said ministers would struggle to work out which degrees were of greater value.
"I think they’ll have a challenge working out what's a beneficial course," she explained.
"I think if you're in the media or creative industries, this is one of our pretty important sectors for the economy, I think that many companies that have [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] degree skill shortages will sort of wonder whether it is right to make those sort of degrees more expensive.”
And she suggested interest payments for tuition loans could be abolished in a bid to help poorer students.
The intervention comes as the Prime Minister prepares to appoint a chair of the independent panel to review fees – as promised in autumn of last year.
The study will look at whether students are paying a fair amount, the efficiency of the current system, and whether students are getting value for money.
Former universities minister under the coalition government, Lord Willetts, told the same programme that the main area of reform to focus on in the review should be vocational training and that universities already have “proper funding”.
“It’s the opportunities of the other half of young people who don’t go to university and I hope this tertiary review focuses on helping them rather than focusing help on the university bit where we have actually hot proper funding behind the education of young people at university and then not paying up front.
“It would be really dangerous if we reduce the unit of resource for the educating people at university because that is something they would notice, they would feel that.”