Price of progress: former minister defends Plymouth fees

A former higher education minister who is now leading a post-1992 university’s student experience strategy has defended the institution’s decision to charge tuition fees of £9,000 for the 2012-13 academic year.

April 29, 2011

Bill Rammell, deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Plymouth, said the fee level was necessary to avoid undermining strong progress the institution had made in areas such as the student experience, graduate employability and research.

He said Plymouth had heavily involved students in the process of deciding its fee levels and that they had also helped to “sculpt and frame” a package of proposals to support applicants from poorer backgrounds, details of which will be announced at a later date.

Mr Rammell, who was Labour higher education minister from 2005 to 2008, said: “I am not going to say that students are happy about the fact that fees are going up to £9,000, but they’re clear that their opposition is to the government.

“Their proviso, and it is one that we agree with, is that an increased investment in the student experience is maintained.”

He insisted that charging a maximum headline fee rather than variable charges – a strategy followed by other new universities – was the correct decision, given the institution’s progress in recent years.

This included Plymouth being rated as a top 50 research institution and among the top 25 per cent of universities in terms of the student experience, he said.

“If we didn’t charge £9,000 we would actually be undercutting that really positive focus on research, the student experience and graduate employment,” he said.

Mr Rammell added that the university and its students’ union would now be working “locally, regionally, nationally” to properly communicate the new system, but he stressed the government still had a part to play in helping to inform applicants.

“I know the government is going to launch a communications campaign and I think that is really necessary because potential students need to understand that it is not going to be a sum of money that is paid upfront.

“We have got to do our bit within universities, but we need a national communications campaign as well,” he said.

Plymouth’s announcement came on the same day that another former polytechnic, Middlesex University, also announced plans to charge a £9,000 headline fee for home and European Union undergraduates from 2012-13.

Michael Driscoll, Middlesex’s vice-chancellor, said: “With the major funding changes facing our sector, this is not the time to ask our students to accept anything less than the best teaching, best facilities and best opportunities.”

simon.baker@tsleducation.com

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