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
The Scots are afraid of the impact that England's top-up fees would have north of the border, but the one solution they are not prepared to contemplate is fees, writes Olga Wojtas.
The Scottish Executive axed upfront tuition fees in 2000 and none of the political parties supports their return, let alone the introduction of top-up fees.
Last month, Universities Scotland, the Association of University Teachers Scotland and the National Union of Students Scotland issued a joint statement that said: "Scotland must find creative solutions to the funding of higher education which do not simply transfer the financial burden on to students or graduates."
A Universities Scotland spokesperson said this week: "Not only is there a political consensus against top-up fees, there is simply no appetite for them among university leaders. Top-up fees are off the agenda in Scotland and we are working to find a solution that balances equity and excellence."
Graduates are liable for a graduate endowment contributing, currently £2,030 but linked to inflation. The funds are ringfenced for student support, with the earnings threshold for the contribution tied to student loan repayments.
Jim Wallace, Scotland's deputy first minister and lifelong learning minister, said top-up fees were not the "right path", since Scotland wants to send out the signal that higher education is open to students from all backgrounds.
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, who was instrumental in having tuition fees axed as part of the coalition government deal, said that this perception was of critical importance in achieving a genuine shift in attitudes among people with no family tradition of entering higher education.
Speaking at an Edinburgh conference organised by education law specialists Thorntons WS and co-sponsored by The THES , Mr Wallace said the Scottish Executive was compiling evidence to help it decide what to do following changes in England.
It has set up four working groups, in tandem with the Scottish Parliament's inquiry into the implications of the white paper, looking at data on the recruitment and retention of staff; cross-border student flows; capital investment; and where institutions' money comes from.
In Wales, the Rees report commissioned by the Welsh Assembly will determine whether institutions will be allowed to charge variable fees, writes Tony Tysome.
Even if it recommends this course, variable fees will not be introduced in Wales until 2007, a year later than in England.
The six Welsh institutions that responded to the survey were reticent about charging increased fees but were fearful of the consequences of not charging them.
Robert Pearce, vice-chancellor of the University of Wales, Lampeter, said:
"Universities in Wales will be seriously disadvantaged if English universities benefit from a new funding stream that is not available on the other side of the border.
"The current uncertainty in Wales in relation to variable fees and to the means by which Welsh institutions will be protected if such fees are adopted in England is giving rise to serious planning blight."
A spokesperson for the University of Wales, Bangor, said: "We are retaining an open mind at present on the Rees investigation and on the issue and level of variable fees.
"As things stand, we are concerned that if variable fees are introduced in England, then universities in Wales should not be disadvantaged. Therefore, some system of variable fees, or another scheme, or special funding from the Welsh Assembly will be needed."
Both Northern Ireland universities oppose the introduction of variable fees, writes Olga Wojtas.
Richard Barnett, pro vice-chancellor for teaching and learning at the University of Ulster, said: "The introduction or otherwise of top-up fees at the province's two universities is a matter for the devolved administration.
"None of Northern Ireland's political parties is in favour of top-up fees.
Ulster, as a university with one of the UK's best records in recruiting and retaining students from disadvantaged families, is at one with them in this objective. Top-up fees are potentially highly socially divisive and we will do everything in our power to resist their introduction."