Fees, fairness and free markets 1

January 14, 2005

As universities start to position themselves in the brave new world of top-up fees and scholarships, no one has considered the plight of further education colleges that work in the higher education market.

Leeds Metropolitan University has announced that some of its courses will cost less than the maximum £3,000 (News, December 17).

This might be the ideal market position for the university or it might lead to it being the first to be relegated to a cheap second-rate league.

Tens of thousands of students take higher courses in further education colleges. What should they be charged? Do local colleges think potential students will happily pay them the same fee they would pay to a local university?

The idea of scholarships paid for by further education colleges out of other income is clearly ridiculous. The reality is that colleges will be forced to charge lower fees and will face the unenviable position of trying to persuade customers that, despite being cheaper, they are just as good as institutions with more to spend per student.

How convincing will that be? If a college fails to position itself correctly in the fee market, its higher education provision will become extinct within one student intake, with all the problems that will cause for institutions on a financial knife edge.

John Curry
Higher education area leader
City of Bath College

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