Set Cambridge tuition at £9,000 with discount for poorest students, internal report advises

Tuition fee levels at the University of Cambridge should be set at £9,000 from 2012-13, but students from the poorest backgrounds should be given a £3,000 discount, according to a draft report seen by Times Higher Education.

The document, published on the university’s internal website, says Cambridge should charge the maximum level permitted partly because “it is expected that most if not all of our peers will charge the maximum fee”.

According to the report, the provision to poorer students of a £3,000 waiver – which should also be accompanied by a maintenance bursary of £1,625 – will ensure “the cost of tuition fees for low-income students is no higher than at any other mainstream English university”.

Students from households earning less than £25,000 would be entitled to the full waiver and bursary – reducing the fees they pay to £6,000 – while those whose families earn up to £42,000 will be entitled to a discount that tapers off with income level.

The draft recommendation from the university’s working group on fees, bursaries and widening participation, which reached its decision on January, will put pressure on other institutions as they decide how to pitch their charges under the new funding regime.

It comes just days before the government is due to publish its final guidance to the Office for Fair Access on how it should judge university access agreements, which will be required from institutions seeking to charge more than £6,000.

The Cambridge working group says that charging less than £9,000 would be “fiscally irresponsible” because of the significant loss per student the university would still suffer.

It also warns that a lower fee “might raise questions about our commitment to excellence since a reduced fee in the long term could only be sustained by reducing costs and hence quality”.

The report adds that the fee should apply regardless of the course concerned, given that the Higher Education Funding Council for England is expected to continue providing some teaching funding for high-cost subjects.

On the fee waiver, the report says that concentrating a £3,000 discount on students from the lowest-income families could help to tackle the problem of debt aversion among that group.

The working group, whose recommendations will go before Council before it decides a proposed fee next Monday, also says Cambridge should increase its target for the proportion of state school students it admits from 58 per cent to between 61 and 63 per cent.

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