Unveiling the student finance arrangements for the second year of the new fees regime, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that fees would be maintained at 2012-13 levels.
This means that universities will not be able to increase charges in line with inflation, which was running at 3.6 per cent in January, forcing them to absorb rising costs. The move signals a departure from previous years when top-up fees rose steadily (from £3,000 in 2005 to this year’s maximum charge of £3,375).
Allowing universities to increase £9,000-a-year fees in line with the current inflation rate would have yielded an extra £324 per student in 2013-14 – or an income of £3.24 million per 10,000 students.
Maximum loans for tuition fees and living costs have also been frozen at 2012-13 levels. However, the maximum maintenance grants available to low-income students on full-time courses will increase in line with inflation.
Maximum fee and course grants for existing part-time and full-time distance-learning students will also keep pace with inflation.
Vince Cable, the business secretary, said: “In tough times we have been able to improve upon the existing student support package.
“Next year we will increase living cost grants for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and there is a generous package of support available to all other students.”
However, the University and College Union questioned the wisdom of sticking rigidly to the 2012-13 student finance packages when the impact of the new fees regime had yet to be evaluated.
It welcomed early confirmation that fees would not rise, but said the government needed to be prepared to be flexible if the 2012-13 package did not provide students with the support they needed.
Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, said: “We believe setting a finance package in stone for 2013, before we have even had a chance to measure the impact of the new untried regime of 2012, would be foolish.”
David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said: “We are giving universities early advice so they can ensure prospective students understand the support available to them.
“This is a sustainable and fair package which gives flexibility to institutions and secure support to students, with more support for disadvantaged students.”
A spokesman for Universities UK said: “Not uprating the fee will certainly erode income for investment in the future, at a time of rising cost pressures and inflation, increasing student expectation, and the need to compete effectively in the global economy.
“However, universities will have planned in the short-term for such an eventuality, recognising that the full financial impact of the current reforms is not yet known.”