London students have been largely overlooked in general election manifestos, despite expert testimony suggesting its universities are badly in need of greater investment.
Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) Director Nick Hillman says London universities are likely to rank poorly in the new Teaching Excellence Framework. In a recent Guardian article, he insists: “It’s time to give London students more money.”
In a mock TEF ranking by the Times last year, the highest-ranking London university was Imperial College, which came 37th out of 120 on the list. Most others came in the bottom half of the ranking.
Hillman suggests low levels of student satisfaction, often caused by the increasing financial burden on those studying in the capital. Student rents in the capital averaged £226 a week in 2015, compared with £147 throughout the rest of the country. As rents increase at a faster rate than the rest of the country, this gap is set to widen. Though students in London can claim larger maintenance loans, these typically do not cover rent, let alone other living costs such as bills and transport.
Hillman credits these financial obstacles with some responsibility for the drop out rate in London, which is high than anywhere else in the UK. He proposes different solutions, among them offering students in London more financial help and subsiding new student accommodations. He additionally argues that students of London-based universities like King’s, Imperial and LSE tend to earn much more after they’ve graduated – so lending them more wouldn’t come at a later cost.
None of these ideas have been picked up by any of the mainstream parties, however. The Conservatives haven’t proposed any reforms to student finance after their overhaul of the system in 2015.
The Lib Dems have promised a careful review of higher education finance, while Labour offers to scrap tuition fees as soon as autumn 2017.
Both Labour and the Lib Dems have promised a reintroduction of maintenance grants and the Lib Dems have also vowed to oppose later changes to student loan repayment conditions.
After breaking their parties pledge to oppose an increase in tuition fees in 2012 it remains to be seen whether students think they can trust the Lib Dems this time around.