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Journal article

The end of free college in England: Implications for enrolments, equity, and quality

Despite increasing financial pressures on higher education systems throughout the world, many governments remain resolutely opposed to the introduction of tuition fees, and some countries and states where tuition fees have been long established are now reconsidering free higher education. This paper examines the consequences of charging tuition fees on university enrolments, equity, and proxies for institutional quality. To do so, we study the English higher education system which has, in just two decades, moved from a free college system to one in which tuition fees are among the highest in the world. Our findings suggest that England's shift has resulted in increased funding per head and rising enrolments, with no apparent widening of the participation gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. The role of fees is moderated by other key features of higher education finance which may differ across countries: in contrast to other systems with high tuition fees, the English system is distinct in that its income-contingent loan system ensures that no tuition fees are paid upfront, and provides students with comparatively generous assistance for living expenses. Still, the English experience provides an instructive case for other countries considering implementing or abolishing tuition fees.

Richard Murphy, Judith Scott-Clayton and Gill Wyness

1 August 2019

Economics of Education Review 71, pp.7-22, 2019

DOI: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2018.11.007

This Journal article is published under the centre's Education and skills programme.