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October 13, 2010

The papers on Browne

All of the major newspapers have responded to the Browne review of university finance on their editorial pages today. Most were generally in favour of Browne’s plans—with the notable exception of The Daily Mail. Here’s a round-up of what they said:

The Guardian

The lefty paper accepts the necessity of higher fees, and appreciates Browne’s attempt to protect poorer students.

“The Liberal Democrats, who were in denial about higher education's financial problems at the election, have been forced to make a rapid U-turn to an uncomfortable reality.”

“The great virtue of Lord Browne's report is that it recognises the realities while attempting to uphold a core set of policy principles that should be broadly supported.”

But still wants definite upper limit on fees, and wants the repayment system to squeeze higher earners more.

“Not everything about the report is right, and significant parts of it should not be accepted – the case for a more realistic but still effective cap on fees remains a strong one, for example, and the student loan repayment terms of the proposed system still have dangerously regressive aspects which Mr Cable seems to accept must be sorted.”

The Times

Also broadly in favour, with some caveats over the possibility that well-qualified applicants may be scared off by the prospect of higher fees. But the paper offers no suggestions on how the proposals could be improved, and suggests the government should accept Browne’s plans wholesale.

“Although the proposals may not be popular and they may not be perfect, there is no better option on offer.”

The Daily Telegraph

They love it, no qualifications.

The Independent

Like The Guardian, the Indy accepts that higher fees are necessary, and says Browne offers the “least unfair” option.

"The Coalition Government, in accepting the proposals of the Browne Review on university funding yesterday, is moving in the direction of the least unfair reform on offer.”

But again, the possibility that higher fees will deter the less well-off.

“Yet this overhaul needs to be accompanied by some safeguards. We cannot be certain how talented students from less-advantaged backgrounds will respond to the inevitable hike in fees charged by the most famous academic institutions. The present level of fees has not been a disincentive, but a doubling of this rate could well be. And the improved financial grants suggested by the Browne Review might prove inadequate to counteract this. The intake of all higher education institutions will need to be closely monitored to ensure that our most prestigious universities do not once again become enclaves of the privileged.”

The Daily Mail

The only major paper to express serious doubts about Browne’s proposals, the Mail acknowledges that university finance is a mess, but savages Browne under the telling headline: Yet again, the middle classes will suffer.

"While we fully accept there are no easy answers, we have the deepest reservations about the proposals outlined by former BP boss Lord Browne, which would saddle graduates with debts of around £40,000 before they start work.”

“Any funding scheme should fulfil two purposes: to keep Britain at the cutting edge of teaching and research and to enable the brightest to realise their full potential. Lord Browne’s proposals risk failing on both counts.”

The Sun

The red top has no trouble with the idea of higher fees.

“Higher university tuition fees are inevitable because money is so tight.”

But oddly, it rejects one of the central arguments in favour of fees—that graduates earn more over their lifetimes.

“Once, a degree guaranteed better pay. No longer.”

And it is unconcerned that some talented students might decide not to go to university, since university is not for everyone. And besides, Simon Cowell and Alan Sugar have done just fine without degrees.

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