£9K fees: now it’s exceptional not to charge them

Willetts’ prediction that market forces would keep fees down have been proved false

July 24, 2014

Source: Alamy

Crystal clear? Forecasts do not always prove accurate

To the list of history’s spectacularly inaccurate predictions, one more can now be added.

Just under four years after former universities and science minister David Willetts insisted that higher education institutions would charge £9,000 tuition fees only in “exceptional circumstances”, all but two English universities charging undergraduates more than £6,000 have said they will charge the maximum for at least some of their courses.

Among the 123 universities assessed by the Office for Fair Access, only University College Birmingham and the University of Sunderland will not levy £9,000 fees in 2015-16.

About a third of universities – 44 in total – will charge £9,000 for all their courses, and a further 43 will charge between £8,800 and £9,000, according to data due to be published by Offa on 24 July. Overall, average tuition fees will rise from £8,735 in 2014-15 to £8,830 in 2015-16, Offa states.

Released in the week after Mr Willetts’ departure from office, the Offa statistics might be seen as confirmation of the failure of policies to curb tuition fees through the “competitive pressure” of the market. Instead, many universities have charged £9,000 or close to it, fearing that they might otherwise be viewed as second rate.

One of the biggest fee increases has been at London Metropolitan University, where average annual undergraduate fees in 2015-16 will be £8,112, up from £6,850 in 2012-13.

The university was one of the few institutions to initially offer lower-cost courses, marketing its “affordable, quality education”, but like many others, it has now decided against such a strategy.

According to Offa, there is also a rapid decline in fee waivers being offered – £25.1 million for 2015-16 down from £153.4 million in 2014-15. This follows criticisms by student leaders that partial fee waivers were a “con trick” because most graduates will never repay the final third of their debt, so would gain no benefit from a lower fee.

However, no extra cash will go directly to students (direct student support for 2015-16 falls £2.3 million to £387.1 million), partly caused by the end of the National Scholarship Programme for undergraduates, Offa says.

Instead, spending on schools outreach will increase by £21 million to £146 million, while academic and employability support for disadvantaged students will also rise.

In total, 172 English universities and further education colleges that charge more than £6,000 for undergraduate courses submitted access agreements for 2015-16. All were eventually approved, although Offa negotiations led to 16 institutions amending the targets they set themselves.


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