Damian Hinds leaves door open to Tory U-turn on student maintenance grants
Education Secretary Damian Hinds today left the door open to an embarrassing Conservative U-turn on student maintenance grants.
Grants for the poorest students were replaced last year with loans under plans first announced by ex-Chancellor George Osborne in 2015.
But Mr Hinds refused to rule out reversing the change as part of a wide-ranging review into the student finance system which begins tomorrow.
It came as he promised the fees system would be changed to represent better “value for money” - in the strongest hint yet that the cost of arts and social science degrees would be slashed.
Asked on the Andrew Marr Show this morning if maintenance grants could be reinstated, the Cabinet minister said: “The review is looking at all aspects of tertiary education funding.”
He also said the review would “absolutely” look at alternative funding models such as replacing the fees system with a graduate tax of some form.
And he said he could “understand” why being saddled with eye-watering debts “could feel difficult” - although he added that £9,250 a year was a “very, very good deal indeed” for some courses.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Mr Hinds said the benefit of a degree to the wider economy, its resulting career prospects and how much it costs the university should all be considered in deciding the cost of fees in England.
The move would usher in fee cuts to arts and social science degrees, which are cheaper to put on and deemed are less career-boosting, while science and engineering subjects could attract a higher rate.
However ministers are considering subsidising some high-value courses to keep costs down for students.
Mr Hinds said: “We have a system where you have got almost all institutions and almost all courses at those institutions charging exactly the same price.
“Some have higher returns to the student than others.
“It’s right that we now ask questions about how that system operates. I would like to see options available which have different costs.”
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner told the Andrew Marr show making different courses different prices would lead to "chaos" in the university sector.
And she said: "Most students have said that the removal of maintenance grants is one of the biggest barriers to higher education. The Government have said nothing on that."
It comes as a Treasury Committee report calls on the Government to reconsider the current 6.1% interest rate on fees and look again at re-introducing student maintenance grants.