Pay-your-way future: Exeter

October 17, 2003

With nearly every university set to introduce some form of top-up fees from 2006, THES reporters take a look at who is planning to charge what and why

Exeter University vice-chancellor Steve Smith is in no doubt - his institution will charge the full Pounds 3,000 top-up fee for all subjects across all his campuses, writes Phil Baty.

"We had nine applications for each place this year, significantly up on last year, which makes us one of the most popular universities," he said.

"We can and will charge the full fee."

He is already sizing up the spoils. "Exeter would seek to get £13.5 million a year in additional income from top-up fees by the third year, when everyone's paying," he said. "We can plough it back into the student experience: staff pay, accommodation, equipment, buildings and the environment."

But most importantly, he said, it will free money for bursaries for poor students. Exeter plans to invest about a third of its fee income, about £5 million, in a bursary scheme.

Professor Smith embraces top-up fees not for solely pragmatic reasons: he is also an ideological convert. "We can ask if fees are the right way to go, but the better line is that the government has recognised the continued underfunding and is doing something about it," he said.

"They are the only proposal that will give universities the money they need," he added. "It is crucial that we get over the message - a lot of critics don't seem to realise that no one pays top-up fees upfront. This is genuinely a progressive social move."

With his institution just below the Russell Group elite in the league tables and higher than many in the popularity stakes, he is one of the few vice-chancellors ready to charge the top rate for all courses who is not seeking higher fee levels.

"I'd love it if it was a bit more," he said. "But we have to live in the world of the possible, and there is always the balance between the money we could get and the problems with prospective students' perception of debt."

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