MPs have expressed concerns over government plans to increase university tuition fees in line with inflation.
New Education Secretary, Justine Greening, has stood by plans to consider increasing university tuition fees in England for those institutions with high standards of teaching. The plan to increase tuition fees forms part of the government’s Higher Education and Research Bill.
Ms. Greening spoke of how “high quality providers” would be able to “access fees up to an inflation-linked maximum fee cap if, and only if, you can demonstrate that you are providing high quality teaching and you have an agreed access and participation plan in place.”
The plans, which will now be overseen by Ms. Greening since her department is now responsible for higher education as well as schools, will see a “teaching excellence framework” used to gauge which universities could increase their fees above the current £9,000 per year maximum. Under the pland, any rise would be in line with inflation.
However, the plans and Ms. Greening’s comments, which were made in the House of Commons, have been criticised by others.
Tuition Fee Warning
Labour’s shadow education minister, Gordon Marsden, warned that the plans could lead to “significant rises” in tuition fees. He asserted that with the unpredictable economic situation following the EU Referendum it would be difficult to ascertain what the levels of inflation might be, which could lead to “significant rises in fee costs.”
Mr Marsden noted, “This is particularly problematic for students post-Brexit with the fragility of our current economy and there are no guarantees on the level of inflation for the next few years.”
These concerns were echoed by the Liberal Democrat spokesman John Pugh, who said that the “instability” following the EU referendum vote meant the bill was no longer “fit for purpose.”
Defending The Bill
Ms. Greening, who was also quizzed on what will happen to EU staff and students as well as EU funding for universities post-Brexit, was keen to defend the Higher Education and Research Bill. She said that the rise would not stop parliamentary scrutiny into the maximum level of fees, and that the bill would actually lead to the creation of more universities, which in turn will improve the economy.
Ms. Greening said, “But the current system for creating universities can feel highly restricted, with new providers requiring the backing of an incumbent institution to become eligible to award its own degrees. This Bill levels that playing field by laying the foundations for a new system where it will be clearer, simpler and quicker to establish high quality new providers.”
She also made note of a planned office for Students, which would help protect ‘value for money,’ following concerns among students that they were not seeing enough value for their fees.
Of course, the real concern here is around social mobility and whether a rise in tuition fees could see more young people from the poorest backgrounds turned off from the idea of going to university. Labour’s Stella Creasey warned, “The biggest division in our society today is who is able to turn to the bank of mum and dad and who is not.”
Surely, by allowing the best universities the right to increase their fees, this bill is creating a tiered system of education, with the poorest students left considering whether they can afford to attend the best institutions.
This also raises questions about consumer rights for students and market forces impacting on university education.
Carol Monaghan of the Scottish national Party warned of the dangers of putting “profit before students,” saying, “The drive towards the marketisation of student experience is one which we should all view with caution.”