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Support students to study abroad, says former UK Universities Minister

Support students to study abroad, says former UK Universities Minister

Speaking at the Going Global conference, former Universities Minister David Willetts called for funding support for students looking to study abroad.

The Treasury should extend student loan funding to support students who wish to complete some of their studies abroad, according to David Willetts, the former Universities Minister. Speaking at the British Council’s Going Global conference this week, Mr Willetts lamented the lack of progressive funding schemes like those found in “enlightened” countries such as Norway. 

He “regrets” that he was not able to implement a policy to allow student loans to be used abroad during his time in minister. This would have allowed English students to use their student loans in other countries that often provide scholarships to the UK, much like an exchange for higher education students, “on the proviso that the host university met the required standards” for quality.

“My view is as globalisation reaches higher education, that is the next stage of the agenda,” he said, before pointing out that Norway is already approaching a system like that.

Reforms have been vindicated

On the topic of the trebling of tuition fees to £9,000, Mr Willetts felt that the reforms were now “widely accepted”. He pointed out that attendance at universities continues to grow and the increased number of students would swell the coffers of these institutions. 

“More students are applying than ever before, there is more cash coming into universities than ever before so I think that the controversial reforms that we introduced have been vindicated by the evidence,” he explained.

Mr Willetts is often thought of as the minister who privatised the UK’s higher education, a misconception that brings him great frustration. He pointed out that high-cost subjects and high-cost students - those that are eligible for financial support due to coming from low-income backgrounds - still received significant public funding.

Recipe for success

Meanwhile, Mr Willetts outlined his thoughts on what makes a successful higher education system looks like and how it would cope with austerity.

“Given the fiscal pressures facing most countries, it is one that can sustain or even increase the resources going into education, enabling more people in your country to participate in higher education, without increasing the pressures on the national exchequer, but whilst ensuring equity and easy access,” he said.

“I do think if you apply those criteria, Australia, New Zealand and England look to have a system which reconciles those different requirements the most.”


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