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The Ethics of Widening Participation: The Funding of Higher Education

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Ensuring fair access to the professions is an enduring policy issue that remains inextricably linked to fair access to educational opportunities in general and opportunities to participate in higher education in particular. In the UK, the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, set up under the previous Labour government, advocated “new opportunities to pursue higher education” (Milburn, 2009:80-98) but acknowledged that the continuing expansion of student numbers would “require an open national debate about the fees universities can charge and the financial support they can offer students” (Milburn, 2009:98). Labour commissioned a review of the funding arrangements for higher education (Browne, 2010) but left the policy decision to the incoming coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. In December 2010, against a background of highly publicised protests, parliament voted to allow universities to charge tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year from September 2012. Whilst this may seem risible when compared to what some North American universities charge, it nearly triples the earlier cap of £3,290 and so, although it is not as radical as earlier changes, it represents a very significant change to funding policies. The government's argument is that higher education provides its graduates with considerable financial benefits and students should therefore share a greater part of the costs. It also argues that students from widening participation backgrounds will receive appropriate levels of state support including fee waivers, bursaries and student loans, which are to be repaid according to graduate income.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2012

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