Caps in the air? No delight from research elite over Willetts’ hint at keeping tuition fees limit

An indication by David Willetts that the government is leaning towards retaining a hard cap on tuition fees has provoked a swift response from the elite research universities, which have lobbied hard for the cap to be abolished.

October 22, 2010

In a speech yesterday, the universities and science minister said the government had not reached a final decision on the proposals by Lord Browne of Madingley’s review relating to a fees cap, or on a proposed Treasury levy on fees charged above a certain threshold.

He suggested that one viable option might be to set two caps, with those universities opting for the higher level being obliged to meet strict conditions for widening access.

Afterwards, he added: “I did indicate in my speech that I don’t think it is sustainable or sensible to imagine a sort of ‘unlimited’ fee cap.”

Wendy Piatt, the director general of the Russell Group, said: “By removing the fee cap in England, the expert team led by Lord Browne has rightly recognised that a substantial increase in graduate contributions is the only viable and the fairest way to secure this vital investment…Rowing back from Browne and re-imposing a cap would be a real waste of an opportunity to allow our leading universities to provide the high-quality education that their students deserve.”

A spokesman for the 1994 Group of small research-intensive universities added: “As Mr Willetts confirmed in his speech, graduate contributions will have to increase just to maintain current levels of quality. The minister needs to make this clear when he calls on universities to show evidence of improvement.

“Funding radical improvements to the student experience will soon be down to graduate contributions alone. This will be impossible under a levy and cap system that straitjackets institutions. We are pleased to hear that the minister has an open mind on the issue.”

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