Time to tackle teenagers’ fears of fees

Sir Peter Lampl says that a new Sutton Trust/Ipsos Mori poll highlights cost concerns among the next generation of university students.

Earlier this year, the Government breathed an audible sigh of relief as university applications appeared to rise again after falling off in the first year of higher fees, although they are still not at 2010 levels.

But a new Ipsos Mori poll for the Sutton Trust suggests that ministers may have been a little premature in taking too much comfort from the latest UCAS data. The poll shows that two thirds of school children worry about the cost of going to university. Only 7 per cent of the 2600 11-16 year-olds polled said they had no concern about the cost.

At the same time, aspirations remain as high as ever. More than four in five young people say they are likely to go to university, even though in reality the proportion of 18-30 year-olds who do so is still less than half. 38% of young people say they are very likely to go to university when they are older, and 43% say they are fairly likely to do so. This is the same proportion as last year when the same question was asked.

Two thirds – 65% – of all the young people polled had significant concerns about university finance which break down as follows:  28% were concerned about tuition fees; 19% were concerned about student living costs and 18% were concerned about lack of earnings while studying.

And although 67% of young people said the most important consideration when deciding whether or not to go to university would be their exam grades, 17% said it would be the cost of going to university, with students from the least affluent families (23%) more likely to cite cost as the biggest consideration than those from the most affluent families (14%).

So, despite high aspirations – and a realistic sense of what they might need to do to realise them – nobody can argue that most young people aren’t still worried about the cost of higher education.

It’s hardly surprising that they are worried when graduates face debts of over £40,000 with fees of £9000 a year for most courses. The truth is that young people are caught between a rock and a hard place.

They know that they still need a university education to get on in life and get a good job. For all the talk of falling graduate premiums, a degree – especially one from a good university – still brings a substantial income bonus. And as Sutton Trust research showed earlier this year, a postgraduate degree is increasingly important, and brings with it an additional substantial premium.

And even if graduates may be finding it harder to gain an immediate job after university, their long term prospects remain brighter than for non-graduates.

But the canny teenager knows something else too. He or she knows that a degree comes with a much higher price tag than ever. Where this year’s graduates might be paying off their student loans into their thirties, those graduating from 2015 onwards will be paying back right into their fifties.

There may be some lower up-front costs, but a £40,000-plus debt with interest rates of up to 3% over inflation a year means that those repayments could impact on whether or when to buy a house or have a family. We’ve asked the Institute for Fiscal Studies to look into the implications of these debt repayments and to model the likely impact on important life decisions. They will report later this year.

But I think there is something else the Government could do now to ease the burden on low and middle income graduates in the future. They should means-test the tuition fee – as happened from 1998-2006 when fees were first levied on undergraduates – in the same way that the maintenance grant is already means-tested. As I noted in an earlier post, this is already commonplace in the United States.

Given that the Government already expects to write off a third of its loans – and some observers think they will have to write off much more – this need not be a particularly costly option. But it could start to allay the fears of debt that face all too many of those who should become tomorrow’s students. That would be a real investment in the future.

Our new board will help us achieve our future goals

Peter Lampl celebrates the establishment of a new Sutton Trust advisory and development board.

The new Sutton Trust board has met for the first time. The Board currently has 18 members drawn from the worlds of business, education and philanthropy, and each is wholly committed to help us in our goal of improving social mobility through education.

By joining the board, they will help make a difference to the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people and have a real impact on social mobility, an area of public policy that is now at the heart of national debate.

Over the last 16 years, the Trust has helped change the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people through its successful programmes. As the UK’s leading organisation improving social mobility through education, we want to improve the educational opportunities for many more young people, expanding our work nationally and internationally and increasing our policy impact through ground-breaking research.

The new advisory and development board will ensure that we can build on that success. The board model we have adopted is inspired by practice in the United States. As with its programmes and research, the Sutton Trust draws on international inspiration where we believe it can make a real difference.

As a charity, fundraising is an important part of ensuring that we are able to continue to make a difference to the lifechances of the many young people with whom we work each year.

That US model means that each member of the board, as well as contributing their precious time and invaluable ideas, is making a generous financial contribution to our ongoing research and programmes, either individually or through their foundations.

When I established the Sutton Trust 16 years ago, I knew we could make a difference, but I maybe hadn’t realised the full impact that we might have. Now, social mobility is at the heart of the agenda of all three main political parties, and a major part of the national discourse. Our summer schools and other programmes are the leading forces for social mobility in universities and key professions. Our research makes news and influences policymakers.

But there is much more we could and can do in the future.  We see real scope for further development of our summer schools. In the UK, with universities now having to contribute significantly more to access, there is a unique opportunity to create a co-ordinated access programme that ensures a clear focus on the most effective programmes.

In the US, we want to build on the incredible success of our summer school last year. We’ve already got 150 young people ready to go to Yale and MIT this year, finding out about the great opportunities that leading US universities provide to bright international students from low and middle income families to study cost-free.

We want to expand our work in primary schools, helping build aspirations at a time when doing so can be most effective, and do more in the early years to create solid foundations for children. We also want to do more to improve the quality of teaching in schools, recognising that raising the game of the 440,000 teachers already in our classrooms is the most important way to improve the education our children receive.

We’re keen to do more to enable highly able young people in comprehensive schools to fulfil their potential, and we think the Pathways model, which allies university access work with professional skills and experience, has great scope for expansion too, from our current work in Law and real estate into many more influential careers.

To achieve all this, it is vital that the Trust continues beyond me and my money. For that to happen we need significant annual fundraising and income from an endowment I want to create for the future.

I am delighted that so many distinguished individuals have already agreed to join the Sutton Trust board, committing both their time and resources. I’m very grateful to them for helping us achieve our future goals.

What Works – A winning formula

Peter Lampl welcomes the designation of the Sutton Trust and EEF as the What Works Centre for Education

This week the Sutton Trust was, together with the Education Endowment Foundation, designated the What Works evidence centre for education by the Government. There will be six leading evidence centres and we and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) have been selected to lead on education and health respectively. The centres will be the first port of call for advice on the latest research on the impact of Government programmes.

This is recognition of the Sutton Trust’s focus on evaluation and research in all the work it does. We have always aspired to subject our programmes to robust review. And as an independent foundation we have used evidence to challenge or support the Government’s education policies.

The Trust has funded over 120 research studies in the areas of social mobility and education. But it is primarily a ‘do tank’. Our flagship summer school programme for example is now the largest national university access scheme – but it is also the most scrutinised programme in this field.

We know they have impact: over three quarters (76%) of summer school attendees go on to a leading university, compared with only 55% of students with similar backgrounds who aren’t on the programme. We also know they are highly cost-effective: when Boston Consulting Group did a cost-benefit analysis of the Trust’s programmes – comparing the lifetime earnings benefits for the individuals on the schemes with the money spent – summer schools were among the programmes resulting in returns of over 20:1.

It was these disciplines – assessing the evidence on what works, assessing cost-benefit, but also ensuring that the research results are presented in a clear accessible way – that underpinned the Teaching and Learning Toolkit the Trust developed for schools on what works best at improving the results of children from poorer backgrounds. The Toolkit has now been used by thousands of schools across the country, and underpins the work of the Education Endowment Foundation.

When we established the EEF in 2011 as lead foundation with Impetus our vision was that it was going to embrace the Sutton Trust’s principles and become a gigantic do tank. The aim was to improve the results of the poorest children in our most challenging schools. But it would also have the freedom to experiment, innovate and rigorously evaluate projects and scale up those that were cost effective.

Two years on I am pleased to say that this has become the reality. To date the EEF has awarded £24.4 million to 55 projects working with over 275,000 pupils in over 1,400 schools across England. It has commissioned over 40 randomised research trials in our schools – the gold standard for evaluations on what works. Over the coming years these studies will add greatly to our knowledge of what interventions are successful in the classroom.

But with research, you have to take the rough with the smooth. Not all the Sutton Trust’s research findings have been welcome. In 2005 the Trust jointly funded a five-year study with the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills and the College Board into the US SAT aptitude test as a potential addition tool in the selection of candidates for universities.

In particular the National Foundation for Educational Research study aimed to find out whether the SAT test could identify highly able non-privileged students whose potential was not being reflected in A-levels because of their circumstances. After five years tracking the results of thousands sixth formers who then attending university, the study concluded that the SAT added little extra information to that provided by A-levels.

If the Government is true to its word on ‘evidence-based policy’ then it will have to face up to this reality. The research may not always confirm prior convictions or favoured policies, and almost always throws up some unexpected results. That’s why I think it is important the EEF and the Sutton Trust remain fiercely independent and make public all the evidence we produce. As the Government’s What Works evidence centre for education, these will be our guiding principles.

We need the best postgrads, not just the richest

Sir Peter Lampl on a worrying divide in postgraduate studies

Today’s new Sutton Trust report on the Postgraduate Premium highlights what is becoming a new frontier in the battle to improve social mobility.

In the 15 years since I established the Sutton Trust, we have started to make inroads into the state/private school balance at Oxford and Cambridge, and there have been improvements in the numbers of poorer students going to university relative to their richer peers.

But the new report shows that as more young people from less privileged homes are going to university – and we have yet to see the full impact of undergraduate fees particularly on the numbers from middle income homes – the goalposts have been shifting.

Where just 4% or 600,000 people in the workforce had postgraduate degrees 16 years ago, 11% or over 2 million have such qualifications today. Of course, there are real economic benefits in having a better educated workforce in today’s global economy. And last year’s report from the Higher Education Commission highlighted a growing demand for expertise in science, technology, engineering, maths and design.

Yet, at below 10%, the UK has one of the lowest progression rates to Master’s studies of any European country, a rate matching Andorra and Kazakhstan, according to the 2012 Bologna Process Implementation Report. [from HE Commission report, p31]

So we need more postgraduates. A better educated workforce should be good for Britain. Brainpower is what adds value in today’s economy. But it is essential that this should not come at the expense of widening inequalities of access to these professions.

Yet, the truth is that postgraduate study is becoming increasingly the preserve of the better off student, both from home and abroad.

There has been a big rise in postgraduate enrolments over the last decade. There are now over 650,000 postgraduate students at our universities. But HEFCE analysis has shown that the numbers on taught postgraduate courses more than doubled between 2002 and 2010, yet the increase among domestic students has been just 16%. Nearly half of all postgraduate students in the UK are now from overseas. Amongst research students, growth by international students has been twice as fast as among UK students.

Our universities have benefited from this extra international income, and it is a real concern that the visa clampdown may be reducing the numbers from overseas. But with the impact of £9000 fees, where graduates will have £40-£50,000 of debt after their first degree, the growth gap between British and overseas postgraduates seems likely to widen rather than narrow. We are in danger of losing out real potential.

Unless we address the issue, there is a real danger that we are squandering the talent of a generation, and losing the chance to stretch our brightest minds, so that they develop the innovations and ideas that will be essential to our economy in the future. At the same time, the higher wage premium – around £5500 a year more on average, or £200,000 across a working lifetime, compared to a £100,000 premium for a first degree  – enjoyed by postgraduate degree holders threatens further to widen income inequalities, reducing social mobility.

It is not easy for Government at a time of public spending restraint to consider improved funding for access to postgraduate study. Yet few investments have the potential to create such significant economic gain.

The Higher Education Commission last year urged ministers to extend the student loan scheme in a targeted way to postgraduate study. That would be a good start. But we need to have a much more concerted effort by government, universities and the professions to ensure that postgraduate study is about stretching the brightest minds and not simply dipping into the deepest pockets.

That’s why we need Government, professional associations and universities to develop a coherent offer for postgraduate study, including bursaries, to enable good graduates from low and middle income backgrounds to continue their studies without incurring significant extra debts.

We must keep the impact of the undergraduate fees on the social mix in postgraduate education under careful review, so that appropriate action can be taken where it can be demonstrated that it is further reducing social mobility. The Office for Fair Access should look at universities’ postgraduate recruitment patterns as part of their annual assessment of access agreements, and consider what steps are being taken to ensure a broad social intake.

In the end, it is vital that the best postgraduates, from home and overseas, study in Britain and contribute their ideas and innovations to help power our economy and improve our society. But to maximise that contribution, we need them to be able to do so on merit rather than money.

Obama’s chance for gun law change

Sir Peter Lampl draws parallels with Dunblane after the Newtown massacre.

Watching with horror reports from Newtown, Connecticut last weekend of the killing of 20 young children and six of their teachers, I couldn’t help but be struck by the similarities with Dunblane.

Back in March 1996, Thomas Hamilton walked into a classroom in that Scottish town, armed with a small arsenal of legally owned guns. It took him just three minutes to kill sixteen 5 and 6 year-olds and their teacher.

But while those two tragedies share a chilling resemblance, I hope that what followed from Dunblane provides President Obama with the inspiration to ban at least some of the deadly weapons that have blighted so many American lives.

When I moved to Boston in the seventies, I was shocked to discover there were more murders in that city each year than in the whole of Britain. Moving back to Britain before Dunblane, I worried that this country was moving in the same direction.

Yet that tragedy led to a fundamental change in the UK.  At the time, I read that a campaign was being organised to ban handguns, so I asked how I could help. Two weeks later, two fathers whose young daughters had been killed showed up in my living room. This moving experience led me to fund the campaign.

The campaign won the support of both John Major and Tony Blair, and proved so successful that it resulted in a complete ban on the private ownership of handguns in Britain.

It changed my life too, as its amazing success encouraged me to devote the next 16 years to education philanthropy, and to the formation of the Sutton Trust a year later.

But Dunblane was not the only mass killing that year to lead to positive change. Six weeks after Dunblane, a killing spree in Port Arthur, Tasmania claimed 35 lives and wounded 18. That massacre led to change too: a ban on semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns across Australia. The ban worked. A Sydney University study found that in the 18 years before the gun law reforms, there were 13 mass shootings in Australia, and none in the ten years afterwards.

I’ve spent so much of my working life in the United States that I have no illusions about our different attitudes. Cold hard facts will not be enough to sway those whose attachment to the constitutional right to bear arms is as strong as the Biblical literalism of the most convinced Creationist.

Last year, I visited a Florida gun show. Hundreds of stalls legally sold every type of weapon imaginable, from samurai swords and tiny handguns that fit in a pocket or purse to semi-automatics like that used in Newtown. There are 5,000 such shows across America annually. US federal law requires gun dealers normally to be licensed and perform background checks, but this requirement does not extend to “occasional sales” at gun shows.

Whenever I switch on the local news in the US, it’s the same story. Someone has been shot dead in a shopping mall, in a side street or at traffic lights. While mass murders make national headlines, the pervasive availability of guns – there are 300 million in circulation, around one per person – means that they are routinely used to settle disputes.

Masses die and are injured each year as a result, with no fanfare. United Nations statistics show that there are nearly 10,000 homicides a year involving firearms in the US, or 3.2 for every 100,000 people. This compares with rates of 0.1 in the UK and Australia.

Yet, support for gun control has fallen. After violent crime rose during the seventies and eighties, President Clinton felt able to outlaw assault weapons. Gallup reported 78 per cent of Americans backing gun control in 1990. By contrast, the most recent Gallup poll on the issue found 54 per cent wanting no change (a fifth of them wanted laxer laws) and only 44 per cent supporting tougher laws.

The Clinton ban lasted ten years, but was not renewed in 2004. The author of the legislation, Senator Dianne Feinstein plans to reintroduce it next month, and I hope she is successful. But she faces formidable foes in the National Rifle Association and other gun rights lobbyists.

People carry guns because they know others do too. Fear of guns is as damaging as their ready availability. And it is white males like me who are the least likely to back gun control. Some Florida friends of mine keep guns in their cars, so any altercation could turn fatal. If someone breaks into my Florida home, they will almost certainly have a gun, making it a life and death situation; here it is more likely to be just another burglary.

After Friday’s massacre, President Obama has a unique window of opportunity to break the cycle of fear and persuade his fellow Americans a ban on assault weapons is essential in stopping such senseless killing. I hope he takes it.

A version of this blog appeared in Wednesday’s Times.

The Sutton Trust at 15

By Sir Peter Lampl

It is fifteen years since I set up the Sutton Trust to improve social mobility in this country. I wanted to ensure that bright children from low or middle income homes had a fair chance of going to a top university and into a leading profession or occupation.

There has been progress in the last fifteen years, but our elites remain largely closed to those without the right school tie and networks, as our research report based on the birthday lists of national newspapers highlighted again this week.

Perhaps most importantly there is now a political consensus that improving social mobility is the major social issue of our time. The 120 research projects and over 200 programmes that we have funded have helped put it there.

At our anniversary lunch on Tuesday, which was attended by 200 supporters and allies of the Trust, it was great to be joined both by David Blunkett – the secretary of state with whom I first worked as chair of the Trust – and Michael Gove, who gave a characteristically eloquent and generous speech about our work.

We have had strong support from all the leaders of all three main political parties over the years, and I was delighted with the generous comments made by David Cameron and Ed Miliband for our anniversary video.

The Trust’s first major programme – university summer schools at leading universities – have helped to narrow the participation gap at our elite universities. In 1997, 49 per cent of entrants to Oxbridge were from state schools; now it is 59 per cent, though it is still below the two-thirds from state schools when I was there.

Recent research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that there has also been some narrowing of the gap in higher education participation more widely: at age 18 or 19 the gap between state school students from the most and least deprived fifths of the population fell from 40 percentage points in 2004-05 to 37 percentage points in 2009-10.

At the same time, some professions, notably law, are now reaching out more to young people of all backgrounds with the help of programmes like Pathways to Law which we developed in partnership with the College of Law and major law firms. More generally, the quality of teaching and leadership is better in urban schools, especially in London.

But we still have a long way to go to open up opportunities. This week’s report showed again how our independent schools educate 7 per cent of the population, but 44 per cent of leading people were privately educated. More than 12 per cent of our elites went to just ten independent schools, with one in 25 at Eton alone.

Our schools are still the most socially segregated among advanced nations. Our independent day schools remain closed to 90 per cent of families who can’t afford the fees, unlike the situation when I was growing up, when 70% of them were principally state funded.  That is why we continue to argue for a state-funded Open Access scheme which half the independent day schools have said they would adopt if funding were available. This would transform mobility at the top.

So what about the future? Improving social mobility is like the war on cancer. It will never be won. Yet with the right research, the right programmes and working closely with government, we can improve mobility and make a real difference to many more lives.

So I’m determined that the Sutton Trust will continue to provide the vehicle for that work, long into the future.

We’re expanding our work, so we can do the research and undertake the programmes that will make a difference from early childhood right through to access to the professions. We’re keen to build on existing partnerships and develop new ones.

Working together, we have made a big difference. I hope that we will continue to make an even bigger difference.

High graduate debt state-side is rare and considered highly undesirable

Sir Peter Lampl reports on how US universities don’t want students leaving with big debts

I’m in the United States this week, visiting Ivy League universities to find out more about what they offer, preparing the ground for next year’s Sutton Trust US summer schools.

Here, the situation is very different. For one thing, one can’t help but be impressed by these magnificent universities and the quality of what is on offer. They certainly deserve their standing in the international league tables.

The American undergraduate has a much broader education than their British counterpart, typically spending two years taking a broad subject mix before majoring in one or possibly two subjects.  At Harvard an admissions officer told me that a distinguished former President said that when you graduate from Harvard, the objective is that you know a little bit about everything and a lot about one or two things. As someone who had to specialise much too early, as is the case with the English system, that strikes me as a pretty good principle.

But it is also on student funding that the differences between the US and the UK are starkest. American universities don’t want to see students starting life with significant debts.  This may surprise those who argued for raising the tuition fee to £9,000 for all in England thinking that we are just catching up with the Americans.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

An excerpt from the Princeton Financial Aid brochure puts it in perspective.  “Our no loan policy has made it possible for most students to graduate with little or no debt.  About 75% of our students graduate debt free.  Of the remaining 25% who choose to borrow, usually for additional expenses such as a laptop computer, the average total indebtedness at graduation is $5000.  For comparison, about 66% of college seniors in the United States graduated with loans in 2010, and they carried an average debt of $25,250.”

So the reality is that a third of Americans graduate with no debt and the two-thirds who do have loans to repay carried an average debt of $25,250 (£15,700) and that is for a four-year programme.  This contrasts sharply with the system in England where graduates will owe on average almost 3 times as much – $73,000 (£45,000) after only a 3 year course.

Americans find this hard to understand.  I remember talking to Lou Gerstner, former IBM chairman and CEO and now a major education philanthropist, about the plans to treble university fees in England. “What: you’re loading students from low and middle income households with debt? He asked, “What are you doing that for?  That’s a bad thing to do.” I now understand where he was coming from.  In the US, the newspapers complain about states raising tuition fees by 7% per year. People are astonished to hear that we just put ours up by 200% in one year.

Harvard, Yale and other Ivys have large endowment funds enabling them to provide needs blind admissions to students from anywhere in the world, with accommodation and tuition fees – worth $60,000[1] (£37,000) a year – free to those with family incomes below $65,000[2] (£40,000) a year.  All student support funds are means-tested.

Columbia, Brown,the University of Pennsylvania and many others pay the tuition and accommodation costs of all their less privileged students from the US and the costs of study for many less privileged overseas students.

Around seventy five per cent of US students go to public universities, which have big state subsidies, whereas we have cut the teaching grant in England by 80% so we are funding just one tenth of university teaching costs, effectively removing state funding for supporting undergraduates.

The truth is that when it comes to debt, we are a complete outlier amongst developed nations, drastically reducing state funding of universities when others are increasing theirs.

US universities want graduates to feel able to go into teaching or get involved in public service rather than head to Wall Street, without worrying about paying back a mountain of debt. They also want their graduates to feel able to go to graduate school, and indeed at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia which I visited, two thirds of its graduates go to grad school within five years of graduation, which is typical for leading US universities.

In England last week, we learnt how less privileged graduates are being put off studying for Masters degrees and doctorates, with a potential cost to their careers and our economy.  The Higher Education Commission report highlighted how postgraduate education in the UK is becoming increasingly the preserve of well-off students from overseas.

By contrast, Ivy League universities are on a hunt for the best talent in the world, and they don’t want their affordability to stand in their way. So they will fund those that can’t afford full fees in their studies, the vast majority from abroad as well as the US.   I support the Commission proposal for a state-backed loan scheme that should be pursued alongside other measures to support non-privileged postgraduate students.

The Sutton Trust has also commissioned research in this area by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, looking at what the effects of leaving university with large debts are on the ability to go to graduate school, buy a house, start a family and so on.

But we need to think again about the debts we are loading on our low and middle income graduates– and learn the lessons from America about how to fund our universities and our students.