New Durham Chancellor wants to ‘restructure’ tuition fees and ‘massive’ loans students face

Dr Hill admitted the ‘massive loans’ would have made her reconsider going to uni

The incoming Chancellor of Durham University has questioned the current funding model of universities, and called for a “rethink” of tuition fees and student loans.

Dr Fiona Hill, a former US presidential advisor to George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, said she would have reconsidered going to university given the “massive loans” current students are faced with.

The Russian and European geopolitical specialist is set to become Durham’s next Chancellor in a ceremony at Durham Cathedral next summer.

Speaking to BBC Newscast ahead of her BBC Reith Lecture which aired this morning (21st December), she said: “I would definitely have rethought education if I’d had to have taken out massive loans.

“There are certain professions we should be emphasising, we’ve got huge demand, we want to rethink how we structure the fees and the loans and assisting people with getting paid back.”

In response to Dr Hill’s comments, the Department of Education said there were “more 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university than ever before”.

Dr Hill, who grew up in County Durham as the daughter of a miner, said she was “extraordinarily grateful” her university education was paid for.

“I wouldn’t have had any of the opportunities that I’ve had, including to study Russian, if it hadn’t have been for the accessibility of education,” she said.

“I was completely paid for by County Durham, the local education authority covered all of my university education,” she added.

When asked what the most important issue facing universities were between student mental health, returning to in-person teaching, the level of tuition fees and the financial sustainability of universities, she described the problems as being “intertwined”.

“I think it’s really about starting to understand what the role of higher education is,” she said. “An education that enlarges society.

“These anxieties and issues are because we’ve started to think of education as an individual benefit which is not the case at all – it’s a massive societal benefit.”

Dr Hill also spoke about her “excitement” at becoming Durham’s 13th Chancellor when she takes over from Sir Thomas Allen next summer, describing it as both a “great honour” and a “great privilege”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “There are more 18-year-olds from disadvantaged background going to university than ever before.

“Our investment in the future skills of this country includes not only the taxpayer-backed student finance system and freezing tuition fees, but also degree apprenticeships, which enable students to earn as they learn.”

Dr Hill is one of four speakers as part of this year’s BBC Radio 4 Reith Lectures, inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 Four Freedoms speech. Dr Hill’s lecture explores “freedom from fear” which you can listen to here.

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