Universities Minister, Jo Johnson has published plans to raise university tuition fees in England to £9,250 per year from 2017.
There has been talk of raising university tuition fees for some time, with some fears that there could be ‘significant’ increases in uni fees for the best performing universities. Any increase in tuition fees is to be in line with inflation and was stated to be linked to the ‘teaching excellence framework’ – theoretically meaning that only the best universities could increase fees. However, it is believed that, for the first year, no university has failed to reach the required standards of excellence, so they will all be able to charge the higher rate of £9,250 from 2017.
Linking the increase to inflation represents a 2.8% increase in university fees and, if it continues at that level, could see them rise above £10,000 over the next few years. What’s more the government have said that the new higher fees can apply to students who have already (or are about to) start courses.
Existing students will face the higher tuition fees if the student contract with their individual universities allows it. – so different universities will have different approaches, with some increasing fees for all students while others will only increase fees for new undergraduates.
Why Is This Happening?
You may be wondering why university fees are increasing at all – we already have by far the highest fees in the English-speaking world. Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of Universities UK, noted that inflation has seen the value of university fees lowered, meaning that in real terms the fees were worth just £8,200 since their introduction in 2012-13. She said, “This inflation catch-up is essential to allow universities to continue to deliver a high-quality learning experience for students.”
A government spokeswoman asserted, “The ability to maintain fees in line with inflation has been in place since 2004, and is subject to regulations,” adding, “This is not part of the Higher Education and Research Bill. The teaching excellence framework will allow universities to maintain fees in line with inflation only if they meet a quality bar, as set out in the recent Higher Education White Paper.”
That being said, consumer protection requirements mean that universities will need to announce the higher fees before the start of the next application cycle in September.
However, no university can change their fees until parliament officially sanctions the increase – and that may be a problem…
Opposition To The Rise
Unsurprisingly, there has been some strong opposition to the increase in tuition fees, including from the Liberal Democrats who have said they will force a vote when parliament reconvenes in the Autumn. Labour, meanwhile have said that there needs to be a proper debate about raising uni fees, with their education spokesman, Gordon Marsden calling the move a “disgraceful” attempt to “sneak out” the increase on the last day of Parliament ahead of the summer break.
Baroness Lorely Burt, the Liberal Democrat university spokeswoman, was particularly scathing, saying, “Linking fees to teaching quality in this way is unacceptable. Enabling any university that scrapes a ‘meet expectations’ rating to increase fees by 2.8% shows that this isn’t about teaching quality at all. If universities need further support then let’s have a proper discussion about where that money comes from, rather than pretending that this is somehow a quid pro quo for providing the quality of teaching students should already be able to expect.”
The National Union of Students and the UCU lecturers’ union have announced a demonstration to protest the increase in November.
A ‘Barrier To Aspiration?’
Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner has also questioned the negative impact a rise in fees may have on those young people from less-well-off backgrounds. She said that “these further increases in fees will be a barrier to aspiration, making it even more difficult for those from low and middle-income families to get the best education they deserve.”
Elsewhere, Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust education charity, noted that “a real concern is that the removal of maintenance grants will almost certainly deter poorer students, who now face debts of over £50,000 on graduation.”
With the Liberal Democrats vowing to fight against the tuition fee increase “every step of the way” it seems that a vote will be forced in the House of Commons when parliament returns in the Autumn. Those universities who have already started advertising the higher rate of fees, and have been criticised for it, may be forced to face a slightly embarrassing U-turn in the Autumn, but for now at least, the plans are clear.