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Analysing the Government’s Response to the Browne Review

Ministers will announce the Governments response to the Browne Review of student fees at 12.30 tomorrow (Wednesday).

Bookmark this page and come back at 12 noon tomorrow for instant analysis and comment on what is said.

Well also be providing links to the official documents, and other commentary from around the web.

Join us to debate the merits of the governments approach here – before, during and after the statement – in the Comments section.


Refresh your browser for updates. Read from the bottom up.


17:42 – OK. Thats it folks. More later in the form of considered analysis and reporting at Research Fortnight. Please comment below, about Browne and indeed about this experiment by us in live blogging.

17:33 – Hefce response hints at the mass of detail to be worked out.

17:32 – CBI welcomes the announcement.

17:31 – To sum up, both the Spectator and Mike Baker at the BBC have speculated that this is a deal that may please no one. But we can be more precise. What the goverment has announced is a deal that is acceptable to Conservative ministers, Clegg and Cable, the Russell Group and most other universities. The people its not acceptable to are some Lib Dems and the NUS. Simon Hughes, the key to the swing Lib Dem MPs, gave no ground today. So we still have the question that has been hanging around from Day 1 – how much muscle do the refuseniks have and will they play hardball? I think if ministers were more confident about this then they would have announced they were aiming for a simple vote to raise the cap on fees today.

17:17 – From yesterday, but interesting. FT says “Nick Clegg is still battling to convince at least four Liberal Democrat ministers to break their election pledges and back a rise in student fees”. Apparently, one of them is Jenny Willott, MP for Cardiff Central and a parliamentary private secretary, who told the Guardian: “I will not support an increase in tuition fees and I’m deeply concerned about increasing levels of student debt.”

17:15 – Aaron Porter on the BBC [video].

17:11 – Reaction coming in. Daily Mail unmoved by tweaks to Browne: “Millions of middle-class families to bear brunt as coalition agrees £9,000 cap on tuition fees”. Mail also has interesting “kite marks” for best courses story from interview with Willetts.

14:04 – UCU table setting out impact of repayments on different kinds of graduates. Not sure if this is up-to-date with the latest announcement though…

13:59 – So come on everyone, what do you think? Will research intensive universities be OK – or even better off? What about the other universities? Will students be put off? What about the humanities and social sciences? And does it look progressive to you? The Comments section is waiting for you…

13:55 – Its all over now.

13:44 – Willetts: I hope this system will help to give students a better experience at university

13:39 – Willetts: graduates will not be tempted away from public sector into higher paid jobs to pay back fees sooner, they will be paying back less than they do now on a £21k wage

13:37 – Willets promises there will continue to be a level playing field for STEM subjects with contnuation of some teaching grant.

13:28 – We started Willetts speech with five questions, to which we now have answers.

Are Cable and Clegg on board? Yes.

Is the cap on student numbers being lifted? No news.

Is Simon Hughes on board? He had the chance to say so, and didnt take it.

Is the government going to push for a simple vote on raising the fees cap or legislate? No decision.

What are the access ties on fees over £6,000? OFFA can take away all the extra income if you dont meet your targets.

13:25 – Dipping into the published details for a moment, there are several progressive tweaks to the arrangements set out by Browne. Maintenance grants rise for families with incomes up to £25,000. Maintenance loans rise for students from families with income up to £60,000. Interest rate tapers according to graduate income, rising from 0 at £21,000 to 3% above RPI at £41,000. Consultation on early repayment penalties.

13:17 – Julian Huppert, Lib Dem for Cambridge, welcomes progressive improvements on Browne but says he does not support raising the cap on fees.

13:13 – Threshold will act as a discipline on universities.

13:12 – Universities to come forward with proposals for widening participation. OFFA will then look at them.

13:11 – Willets: today CSR means universities can go forward on a firm footing.

13:10 – Lammy: will there be debate and a vote on the floor? Willetts: yes.

13:09 – Simon Hughes asks a question. What students will be better off? Willetts says about a quarter of students will be better off. Half will pay less [not sure what that means].

13:03 – A £150m National Scholarships Programme for students from poor backgrounds. It will guarantee students benefits such as a free first year or foundation year.

13:01 – intensely important to keep communication open with Scottish Government, says Kennedy. This will affect Scottish institutions

13:00 – Charles Kennedy says he cant get on board

12:58 – Univeristies will be required to make provisions for widening participation if charging higher fees. OFFA will have the power to remove a universitys right to charge £6k fees if they fail

12:54 – The governments plans are now up on the web.

12:51 – Aaron Porter tweets – David Willetts is living on another planet if he thinks this is good for students!

12:50 – Thomas asks if cash from extra patyments made by higher earners will flow back into HE or go straight to the Treasury

12:47 – worst of all possible worlds, says Thomas. Many students will be forced to choose cheapest course rather than what is right for them

12:46 – Gareth Thomas – Conservatives want crude ad competitive market

12:43 – changes will be implemented for 2012-13 academic year. Proposals to the House before Christmas

12.41 – part-time students entitled to loan on same basis as full timers

12.39 – higher earners could pay levy of 5% on early payments

12.38 – the rate of interest paid back will be related to the grads earnings. those earning below £21k threshold will pay no interest. Those earning between £21k and £41k wil pay a maximum of inflation3%. Above £41k there will be a larger rate of interest but still well below commercial rates.

12.36 – as per Browne, repayments start at £21k earnings at 9% or earnings. Payment right-off after 30 yrs

12.35 – Confirms basic threshold of £6k and exceptional threshold of 9k

12:34 – Willetts has entered the chamber.

12:23 – Now taking over blogging duties, Laura Hood. Were just minutes away from the announcement.

12:15 – Sparring between PM and Miliband turns, briefly, to fees.

12:05 – Aaron Porter tweets: “To all MPs – if you break your pledge to students, NUS will pledge to organise against at the next election. We wont break ours!”

11:41 – While we wait for the announcement, you may want to catch up on my briefing, What to expect from the Governments response to the Browne Review of student fees. I thought some of these options were fading into the background, but until Cable and Clegg turn up, they remain very much on the table. For what all this may mean for the Coalition, see “Why Cameron may have to nuke the Lib Dems on fees”.

11:36 – UCU now also asking “Where is Cable?”

11:33 – Phil Willis, who is the thick of it for the Lib Dems, was tight-lipped at our conference this morning on Browne. Unlike the CSR and TICs, where he was in glorious, sweepingly enlightening mode.

11:31 – Richard Jones, PVC for Research at Sheffield, tweets that one key question for today is whether the cap on the number of students universities can take is lifted.

11:26 – The Spectator says the policy to be announced is a compromise but “the question remains: will it end up pleasing no-one”.

08:29 – Putting it all together, then right now I dont see any reason to believe Cameron and Clegg have sealed the deal. Im not seeing any substantial progress on the progressive social mobility agenda Clegg wants beyond what we had a week ago. Plus theres a degree of confusion over what we will hear today. If anything, ministers are falling back on Labours plans for widening participation. Plus NUS are not on board. So I suspect Clegg and Cable are hiding today because they have not got enough out of the Conservatives to give unqualified backing to the policy. If so, we are in for a white knuckle ride through the rapids of brinksmanship.

08:23 – Gove told us No Quotas and No More than the £150m already announced for scholarships. And all the stuff on widening participation sounds like a work in progress.

08:21 – Nice to hear Lee Elliot Major, a Research Fortnight alumnus, being quoted in the Gove interview. (Another one, Anna Fazackerly, is a key thinker on Team Willetts.

07:40 – Blimey. Its Michael Gove to do tuition fees on the Today programme at 07:50. And Willetts in the Commons. Where are Clegg and Cable? Presumably Goves going to talk about how the government plans to widen participation by doing stuff in schools.

07:34 – Im wondering how united the Russell Group will be in its position on what we see today. I suspect that what seems like unacceptable interference in Oxford or Cambridge may be more acceptable in Liverpool or Sheffield.

07:33 – Gimpyblog reminds us that theres other big stuff going on that could also impact universities, for example what will the impact of the immigration cap be on recruitment of overseas students?

07:25 – The Independent reports Universities UK saying most universities will charge £7,000 – £8,000 a year. Which with a cap of £9,000 would pretty much destroy any idea of a market.

07:23 – Same story also appearing elsewhere. Telegraph the only recipient outraged enough by the prospect of “social engineering” to put story on its cover. Guardian leads on the rebellion Clegg is facing but hasnt got anything out of Simon Hughes.

06:57 – Good morning. The Telegraph story is now online. The essence is that once fees go over £6k, universities risk being forced to spend a third of the income on widening participation if they fail to meet access targets by the Office for Fair Access. These targets dont sound very different to the ones that universities already have – and in the case of Oxford and Cambridge routinely miss. The story also makes what were getting today sound much less like a “deal” that I had imagined. It says the Russell Group is not on board, and suggests that Lib Dems will split an embarrassing three ways on the votes.


23:51 – Final round up this evening. Tomorrow I think its all about how progressive the package is (Question 3 below). Quotas as per the Telegraph headline would be a huge concession by the Russell Group and is one thing that would definitely make a difference. But how solid is that story? Im wondering how nailed down the progressive bits will be tomorrow. If its a case of concrete announcements on finance and “well look at” statements on quotas and the like, then I wonder how ready Lib Dems will be to give the government unambiguous support. The tell tale signs are Questions 1 and 2 below. If the swing Lib Dem MPs hold back, then the governments still not out of the woods and sure of victory.

23:47 – Lucy Manning on ITV News has a good round up. Like the BBC and PA, she doesnt mention quotas. Its bursaries, and summer courses for her.

22:52 – Now this is news. Telegraph front page tomorrow promises “Universities get quota of poor students”.

22:26 – Aaron Porter tweets “The fight is on!”

22:24 – Presumably Cable or Willetts will be on R4 Today programme in the morning. One odd thing, BBC is saying Willetts will make the announcement tomorrow in the Commons. Why not Cable?

22:12 – Reuters has the same story on the same embargo.

22:00 – Oops, news agenda risks slipping out of control so government leaks £6k/£9k formula to BBC with 10pm embargo.

19:00 – And for something more erudite, try Stefan Collinis deconstruction of Browne.

18:45 – Fairly tactical analysis by me of whats going on at the moment, What to expect from the Governments response to the Browne Review of student fees

18:40 – BBC story also mentions a tussle over quotas for disadvantaged students, red rag to Russell Group.

18:20 – And here we go with the agenda-setting briefing war. The Press Association and BBC run with NUS survey on the impact of fees at £10,000. 78 per cent say they would be deterred. Its a weak point for the Coalitions claims of being progressive – the Browne panel produced no evidence to support its assertion that higher fees would not deter students, especially poor ones.

18:15 – If the Coalition spinners are on top form, what stories would they want to see running in the papers in the morning? Theyd want a Lib Dem to get the Guardian to say it will be a “genuinely progressive outcome”. Theyd want a Conservative to get the Telegraph to say “Cameron has forced the Lib Dems to face up to reality”. Theyd want the BBC to go with both of the above, plus something like “it shows the Coalition can negotiate even the stormiest waters of dispute”. And theyd probably just wince at the thought of the Daily Mails fury at the higher interest rates being dumped on middle class students.

17:40 – Tony Blair devoted most of a chapter in his autobiography to the introduction of variable fees. How many pages do you think Browne will make in Camerons memoirs? While Blair took months locked away with Howard Newby at Number 10, Cameron has done it much more quickly amidst a whirl of other stuff. And the final deal seems to have been sealed while he was at the EU summit in Brussels.

17:30 – Other people with copies of the government response – spotty SPAD youths at Number 10. Officials at BIS. When you add them and all their mates up, its practically an open secret.

15:30 – After the conference, we will be moving to a private room in a pub to discuss the governments response to Browne. Well be at the Marlborough Arms off Gower Street from 6pm. Informal, but with a great collection of people who, for fear of irretrievable damage to our research base, are not permitted to fly together. If youre not at the conference but would like to come to the drinks, youre welcome but please email me in advance for confirmation at wocb [at] researchresearch.com – theres a limit to how many people we can take.

15:05 – Of course, if you cant be bothered to wait until tomorrow to find out what the governments position is, you could just phone one of the people who already know. That means pretty much any Lib Dem MP plus a decent selection of senior party members, some of whom are academics. Or the Russell Group that hammered out the compromise via its backers in the Conservative Party. (And if your Russell Group VC doesnt know whats in the government response, why dont they?) Or Aaron Porter at NUS. Or the Hefce folk. Or any of the people these people have told.

14:42 – Channel 4 has some of the background to the announcement, from Gary Gibbon, whos followed it all quite closely.

14:40 – What questions do you want to see answers to? Please use the Comments section below to tell us what things to look out for.

14:28 – Things Ill be watching for, No 3: What are the ties when fees go over £6,000 a year, and do they look likely to widen participation at our most prestigious universities?

14:25 – Things Ill be watching for, No 2: Is the government going to go for a simple vote on raising the fees cap before Christmas?

14:23 – Things Ill be watching for, No 1: Simon Hughes. Will he say, “This is a good, progressive result that Lib Dems should welcome.” Or will he reserve his position. Im expecting the former…

14:18 – Wondering what the stakes are tomorrow? Read Alan Langlands speech from last week, allow for the moderate tone a Hefce chief executive has to use, and then consider his warnings carefully.

14:12 – You can watch Vince speak live via Parliaments TV player here. The stream should be live by 12 noon. Open that in one browser window and join us here in another!

14:02 – Not entirely by coincidence, we are hosting our first conference tomorrow, “From Recession to Recovery” at the British Museum. Its sold out. But if you are attending, we will be showing Cables statement live during lunch! Were also looking into finding a nearby venue for an early-evening discussion of Browne at the end of the conference. Well keep you posted.

13:57 – I havent seen anything from BIS yet on Cables statement tomorrow.

13.53 – Were expecting a cap on fees at £9,000 a year, and for strings to be attached to any fees over £6,000 a year. That should give research-intensive universities enough money to cover the £7,600 a year or so they say they need to replace the teaching money they just lost in the Comprehensive Spending Review (or CSR from now on).

13.50 – Welcome to Research Fortnights coverage of the governments response to the Browne review – and the biggest decisions for decades on the future of our universities. In the seat for now, William Cullerne Bown.