New universities stand to gain most from top-up fees as older institutions sink much of the extra income they raise into bursaries and scholarships, it was claimed this week.
Michael Driscoll, vice-chancellor of Middlesex University and chairman of Campaigning for Mainstream Universities, said that traditional universities were committing more cash to bursary schemes than the former polytechnics for fear of falling foul of the access regulator, the Office for Fair Access.
But Professor Driscoll pointed out that this would not only eat into their top-up fee income but would do little to deflect the continued attentions of Offa, which is likely to be concerned that older universities educate fewer students from working-class backgrounds.
Professor Driscoll told delegates at the Association of University Administrators conference in Keele that, on the assumption that all universities are going to charge £3,000, Middlesex would be relatively better off than Cambridge University. He said: "Cambridge won't get the money but will get grief [from Offa]. Middlesex will get the money but won't get grief [from Offa]."
Professor Driscoll said that Cambridge had a turnover of some £400 million compared with Middlesex's turnover of £130 million, had a similar number of students and that both stood to receive some £18 million from increased tuition fees. But he said that, while Cambridge had committed itself to handing out £8 million in bursaries, Middlesex's commitment was Pounds 1.6 million.
A spokesman for Cambridge said it did not anticipate being worse off for long: "We intend for the top-up fee income to kick-start the bursary scheme, but we don't expect it to fund it for very long - we will launch a funding campaign to meet the costs. In the middle to long term, we do not anticipate that we will be worse off than Middlesex."
Professor Driscoll's analysis was backed by Peter Knight, vice-chancellor of the University of Central England. Dr Knight also argued that more British students would study overseas following the introduction of fees.
He said: "Unless British universities are freed from government control, we will be ill-equipped to cope. The debate about fees so far has been most insular. The government should see its role not as funding universities but as funding students. It would make universities dependent on students applying to them instead of whingeing to government for more money."