Worth the Wait? Policy Connect Responds to the Augar Review

“Any rumours on the launch date?”

For months, in conversations among members of FE and HE, often over warm orange juice and cold croissants at sector conferences and panels, the launch of the Government’s Post-18 Review of Education and Funding has been anticipated. For those who are tired of hearing themselves quip – “let’s see what Augar recommends…” – the report has finally landed.

Ahead of her imminent departure from Number 10, the Prime Minister, who launched the review in early 2018, has – at last – released its findings.

So, what does it actually say? A lot, is the short answer. At 216 pages and 50+ recommendations, while not as colossal as the Dearing report, it is substantial in its instruction. However, size isn’t everything, it’s what you do with it that matters – which begs one vital question: what impact will the Augar Review have?   

For Policy Connect and our HE Commission there were significant policy wins. Degree Apprenticeships: Up to Standard? was referenced on multiple occasions. The review endorsed a review for the barriers facing SMEs and ‘cold spots’, streamlining complex regulation, and aligning apprenticeship policy with the Industrial Strategy, all of which Policy Connect advised to the Augar panel.

Leaked recommendations, predominantly around HE, have been surfacing since late 2018 and many feature in the final report. Lowering tuition fees from a maximum of £9,250 per year to £7,500, restoration of means-tested grants, and reforms to the repayment and interest rates of student loans have all stuck.

Augar correctly calls out the drought of FE funding in recent decades and his call for £1 Billion in capital funding will be welcomed by the sector. Other interesting recommendations include a lifelong learning loan at Levels 4, 5, 6 and free ‘first’ level 3 qualifications irrespective of age.

However, the question is whether any of these recommendations will be implemented. The review has emerged during political uncertainty: a Conservative leadership contest, a new Prime Minister and with them a new cabinet – the spectre of a general election looms. Commissioned by an outbound Theresa May, while Damian Hinds seems to be taking the review seriously, there’s little reassurance that he’ll still be in post come the end of summer. 

Nonetheless, it’s difficult to contemplate that this report will not go on to impact the sector. While far from perfect and perhaps not as revolutionary as it could have been, it is undoubtedly healthy for the sector that this report made it out of Theresa May’s in-tray. It’s a seminal document and Ministers, present or future, would be wise to take heed.

There is a lot to digest and debate will continue apace, the EduSkills team at Policy Connect will be releasing more thorough analysis in the coming days.