Malcolm Gillies, London Met’s vice-chancellor, told The Sunday Times he was planning a tuition-fee structure that took account of “affordability for students who will incur a real debt that they may live with for 30 years”.
He is the first vice-chancellor to announce that he intends to set course fees below the £6,000 threshold, despite the government insisting that those charging over this lower limit should be the exception rather than the rule.
So far six universities – all members of the Russell and 1994 groups of research-intensive institutions – have announced their fee levels for 2012. All have decided to charge £9,000, albeit with fee waivers and bursaries to assist poorer students.
Professor Gillies said of London Met’s approach: “We have the largest number of students from manual work and unemployed backgrounds of any university in the country, so it is an issue of social responsibility for us.
“The average [fee] will be £6,000 to £7,000, considerably higher in some [courses], considerably lower in others.”
London Met’s decision is likely to put pressure on other institutions as they decide how to pitch themselves in the new fees market. Those that have announced their intention to charge the maximum amount permissible are the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Exeter, Durham and Surrey, plus Imperial College London.
Professor Gillies said that the rush to charge higher fees suggested that “there has not been a really serious attempt to see how you might reduce costs in the interests of affordability for the student”.
As Times Higher Education reported earlier this month, London Met plans substantial reductions to the number of courses it offers from 2012-13.
It is also continuing to pay back tens of millions of pounds to the Higher Education Funding Council for England after financial mismanagement by the institution’s previous administration.