HEA halts plan to hike university subscription fees

Backlash from v-cs prompts teaching champion to opt for 'reflection and consultation'

February 8, 2016
Rama Thirunamachandran, the vice-chancellor of Canterbury Christ Church University

The Higher Education Academy has withdrawn its current plans to significantly increase its subscription fees after they were rejected by vice-chancellors.

The teaching champion said that it wanted to allow for a “period of reflection and consultation with the sector” after the board of Universities UK came out against the HEA’s proposal to double subscription charges for most universities.

The changes would have left the largest institutions, those with the equivalent of 30,000 full-time students, facing an annual fee of £65,000, but the UUK board argued that the current funding regime should be rolled over for another year.

Vice-chancellors were concerned about a perceived lack of consultation about the increase, and the cumulative impact of rising costs faced by institutions. The planned introduction of an Office for Students raises the prospect of a new, significant subscription fee being created under that regime.

Rama Thirunamachandran, chair of the HEA and vice-chancellor of Canterbury Christ Church University, said that he would personally lead a consultation with UUK and GuildHE, the sector’s other representative body, in an attempt to reach a settlement.

“The [HEA] board acknowledges that all sector agencies are reviewing their business models in light of the loss of grant funding,” Professor Thirunamachandran said. “This is a wider issue for the higher education sector and we welcome further discussion across the sector.”

However, Professor Thirunamachandran said that there was a time limit on negotiations, given that the HEA’s proposals had been prompted by the withdrawal of support from the UK’s funding councils.

“We need an agreed institutional subscription model in place in time for 1 August 2016 when grant funding comes to an end,” he said.

UUK also came out against the HEA’s plan to apply for chartered status, a move that, combined with the introduction of membership fees for individual academics, could see increased costs being passed on to institutions.

Professor Thirunamachandran said that he felt that chartered status would “enhance the reputation of the sector and professional standing of individual staff”, but promised that the HEA “would want to consult further when the higher education landscape is more settled”.

He added: “At a time of greater focus on teaching quality and excellence both nationally and internationally, it would be unfortunate if the sector decided not to support the HEA.”

chris.havergal@tesglobal.com

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