The government has used a cynical “last day of Parliament” manoeuvre before the summer recess to sneak out, with 29 other written statements, an announcement of major increases in tuition fees for the year 2017-18.
The figure of 2.8 per cent will apply to all publicly funded providers who will be eligible to participate in year one of the government’s new teaching excellence framework.
Only two days ago, the Commons debated the government’s major new Higher Education and Research Bill that would, if passed, support the implementation of the TEF. But ministers didn’t utter a word about these increases in their front bench statements!
Ministers had neither the guts nor the courtesy to do so, preferring to release the information where they could evade further scrutiny from MPs. The list of eligible private and public providers who meet the government’s TEF test was likewise tucked away quietly without fanfare on its website.
The government’s disgraceful behaviour fully justified what we have said repeatedly about the government abusing the concept of a teaching excellence framework and using it as a Trojan horse for fee increases.
These would raise the fees, on the government’s hidden list, to £9,250 a year. As we said in the bill debate only on Tuesday, year one TEF is just a "cash-in coupon" which, because it demands no evidence of excellence, risks tarnishing the entire TEF exercise even before it has been properly discussed in Parliament.
Such an increase will also add even further to the three-year debt burden that students face. The Sutton Trust has described this as already one of the highest in the Western world.
This will also hit, in due course, all those potential students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who have had their maintenance grants stripped away by this government. Their loans for repayment will increase by 2.8 per cent, adding a further disincentive to their participation and social mobility.
The government has said that the regulations will be laid for this increase later in the year, and that they will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. We give them notice now that nothing less than a full debate on these increases on the floor of the House will be adequate for this.
Gordon Marsden is the MP for Blackpool South and the shadow minister for higher education, further education and skills.