Chris Havergal has been news editor at Times Higher Education since February 2017 and previously worked as a reporter covering the education sector. His main focuses are teaching and international trends. The Definition education PR team attended a webinar in which Chris discussed changes to the university system in England, the financial challenges faced by the government and what makes for great education journalism.

What effects will the changes to the student loan repayments system have on graduates?

Changes to the repayments threshold mean higher costs for graduates upon leaving university. Although the plans will affect those on Plan 3 the most (where the threshold for repayment is £21,000, compared with £27,295 for Plan 2), all who began their courses after 2012 will find themselves paying more.

Chris cities the Augar report recommendation of cutting/freezing tuition fees to help safeguard future graduates against soaring repayments.

Will the government start to cap university admissions?

Yes, quite possibly. Chris believes it is feasible we will see a resurgence of student number controls. Such controls would take the form of a general admissions cap, or a kind of ‘means testing’ for graduate outcomes in certain sectors. However, Chris argues that government debate over revised entry requirements would still see standards too low to have any meaningful effect on admissions.

What other challenges are the government facing in the higher/further education space?

The issue of tuition fees remains. Chris states that, if the £9,250 figure remains static for the next five years, universities could actually lose out on funding due to inflation. This will be an issue for the next government: with the war in Ukraine, squeezed supply chains and Brexit all acting as inflation multipliers, finding a solution is essential.

Another pressing issue is the implementation of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE). As Chris explains, more workers are having to retrain to adapt to an ever-digitising modern economy. This scheme would allow them to secure funding for short courses at a range of levels across a wide variety of sectors, to either gain a new skillset or improve on their existing one, whilst being able to fit their studies around work.

This, in principle, is a great idea, however, as Chris explains, the government has not considered what the uptake will actually be, and it is also unclear what a repayment plan would look like. The latter is important because, due to their advancing age, many applicants will have less time to pay into the system, leading to a less-than-optimum rate of repayments. For this reason, the Treasury will need to look at how best to balance the costs of the scheme with its benefits.

What would Chris like to see more of in education journalism?

Chris makes a point to highlight the Times Higher Education as a global education magazine. Although the mag’s origins were as a publication dedicated to UK policy, it moved online during Chris’s tenure, adopting a more international focus. For this reason, pitches should consider education issues and news from around the world, not just the UK. This is not to say that he isn’t interested in the UK, rather that he considers the wider global appeal of each story.

Within this framework, Chris employs eight additional journalists, each with their own specialisms including policy, internationalisation, and workplace issues. He is especially interested in trends and a piece doesn’t necessarily have to be news – case studies, interviews, opinion pieces are all permissible. Why? Because Chris believes that anything concerning the ‘big picture’ as far as global higher education is concerned is worth publishing.

The majority of press releases Chris receives are focussed on edtech. If a piece has genuine potential to influence the education sector in a positive way, engaging with policy or is proving innovative, he will be interested. That being said, Chris is less interested in ‘pure’ business news, so any pitches relating to new CEOs or company acquisitions will probably not make the cut.

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