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Browne really is the biggest gamble. In the whole world. Ever.

“Nothing on this magnitude has ever been contemplated before.”

Others have said this about the governments plans to revise the funding of higher education. But the sentiment has added force when it comes from an independent consultancy that takes a regular in depth look at higher education around the world, Higher Education Strategy Associates.

In its new report, the Canadian consultancy takes a look at the difference between two concepts that are often elided in the debate on Browne – affordability and access. It runs three scenarios for rises in fees (of which the governments response to Browne puts us somewhere between scenario 2 and scenario 3). And it concludes:

“A more important question, of course, is whether or not any of this would matter in terms of accessibility. Elsewhere in this paper, we have noted that cheaper systems of higher education do not automatically lead to higher levels of accessibility. But this is uncharted territory; no one has ever tried to run a research-intensive system of public higher education with such a high reliance on student fees before. Either scenarios 2 or 3 would represent the single largest one-year increase in net costs anywhere in the world since mass higher education began. How students would react to such a major shift in costs – even with loans freely available – is impossible to tell. Nothing on this magnitude has ever been contemplated before.”