Fee hike ‘has not driven teaching improvement’, says UUK panel

Raising tuition fees to £9,000 has not helped drive improvements in teaching despite the government’s insistence it would improve standards

January 6, 2015

That is among the interim findings of Universities UK’s Student Funding Panel, which was established last year to examine the current system.

With the general election only five months away, the panel hope that the recommendations will pay a significant role in shaping the manifestos of the three main parties.

After hearing from a number of prominent figures in higher education and policy, the panel, which is itself made up of education experts and high-profile university figures, says there is “little evidence that the reforms have improved incentives for institutions to pursue innovations in teaching”.

It also finds fee increases have led to a drop in the number of “flexible” places available to students, with the 2012 reforms coinciding with “the number of part-time undergraduate entrants to institutions in England having almost halved between 2010-11 and 2013-14”.

Commenting on tuition fees directly, the panel raised concerns about the amount of money being repaid by post-2012 undergraduates and some members said the repayment period of 30 years was too long.  

The panel also expressed concerns about the level of support available to students experiencing financial difficulties “who do not qualify for the full package of maintenance support”.

However, the document is noteworthy for not making any recommendation on the fee cap level, even though a number of vice-chancellors have questioned whether it should rise above £9,000.

In 2013, Sir Christopher Snowden, UUK president and vice-chancellor of the University of Surrey - and chair of the funding panel - said the £9,000 cap “could not be frozen forever”. His comments followed others made by University of Liverpool vice-chancellor Sir Howard Newby and the University of Oxford’s Andrew Hamilton, who have both raised questions about the future of the fee cap.

Commenting on the panel’s interim findings, Sir Christopher called on more work to be done to see how the fees system in England could be further improved.

“There has been a lot of commentary recently about the long-term financial sustainability of the current funding and fees system in England,” he said.

“We need more evidence on how the system can best deliver value for money for students, encourage greater participation of part-time and mature students and provide a stable funding environment for all universities.”

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