Top-up fees revived by tuition fee let-down

August 22, 1997

Universities responded with alarm this week to news that student tuition fees was not extra money for them

Oxford said it would fight moves to reduce its local authority fee income in line with the amount received from students.

A spokeswoman said: "Oxford was very much hoping and assuming that the money from tuition fees would be in addition to existing government support and would strongly resist any attempt to make it otherwise."

She said the university was "not actively considering top-up fees". But it has included the possibility in its prospectus, which would remove legal obstacles to charging fees should it decide to do so.

Top-up fees are made more likely by the threat to college fees, which were queried by the Dearing inquiry. Dearing suggested Oxford and Cambridge universities should have to convince ministers that this extra cash secured value for money.

The Government has already overturned its predecessor's decision to raise college fees by between 3.5 and 3.8 per cent, raising them by just 1 per cent instead. Bursars complain this has left a Pounds 1 million funding gap.

THE LSE says it will consider introducing top-up fees if there is no extra money for higher education.

Spokeswoman Denise Anett said that the LSE had no immediate plans to introduce top-up fees but said that it would have to protect educational quality, standards and its international reputation even if no money is forthcoming. The LSE has already approved top-up fees in principal. Ms Anett said: "If there is no new money then what was the point of Dearing? The expectation of the sector was that extra money would be coming through tuition fees."

She said that the LSE was aware that the Government had warned institutions against top-up fees and that it had no intention of challenging that at present. She said that the LSE was waiting to find out exactly how much money would be coming into the sector.

London Guildhall's vice chancellor, Roderick Floud, said that the sector had been naive to believe that tuition fees would mean extra cash for institutions.

Professor Floud said that the fees decision is entirely consistent with the Government's emphasis on looking at higher education funding within the totality of public spending.

Professor Floud said that everything rested on the outcome of the ongoing review of government expenditure and that Sir Ron Dearing's report would help in the battle for funds. He added that it was not university policy to charge top-up fees and that imposing them would be an inequitable knee-jerk reaction.

Derby's deputy vice chancellor, Michael Hall, said: "We are horrified to learn that tuition fees will not be passed on in the near future."

Mr Hall said Derby was already 11.8 per cent below the mean for funds for each student and the university was expected to achieve a further 6.5 per cent efficiency saving over the next few years. "You can't keep getting blood out of a stone," he added. "We thought tuition fees would give us the answer."

Lancaster's secretary, Stephen Lamley, said there would be widespread concern about the news that higher education was not to benefit immediately from student tuition fee income. "The sooner we are given clear information abut how the scheme will work, the better," he said.

Lancaster has been in recovery mode following a financial crisis. While not ruling out top-up fees entirely, Mr Lamley said it was an unlikely measure. "We will not consider top-up fees unless they were adopted across the system."

Teesside's deputy academic registrar, Mark White, said he was shocked and surprised by the news. "We need the Government to respond to the funding gap in the short term, not the medium or long term. We had been reassured by statements from Baroness Blackstone and now we feel deeply disappointed. We want some answers, quickly."

Part of Teesside's mission was to extend access, Mr White said, and it could not consider top-up fees as a solution for fear of deterring students.

Glasgow vice principal, Drummond Bone, said if there was no increase elsewhere in the block grant, the move would be a disaster for universities and fly in the face of both the Dearing report and statements made by David Blunkett. "Universities' core activities are teaching and research, not bearing the cost of the new loans system," Professor Bone said.

Top-up fees could not be ruled out even though the university was against them in principle, he added. "We are all back to where we were before, this is a whole new ball game."

Wales, Cardiff decided earlier this year not to introduce top-up fees. Pro-vice chancellor John King said that one reason behind the decision was that Cardiff had no wish to be a member of a small minority pressing ahead with top-ups. He said that if extra money was not forthcoming, it was likely that institutions seriously contemplating top-up fees would be a much larger group than before: "When institutions made their decisions earlier this year, it was in the hope and expectation that something would come out of Dearing."

Wales, Swansea expects to introduce further economies rather than top-up fees. Roger Thomas, director of planning and marketing development, said: "David Blunkett has set his face so firmly against top-up fees that that avenue looks to be closed to us."

While emphasising the speculative nature of any response to "what if?" questions, he said: "We might have to stop offering certain subjects. Students might be charged much more for accommodation and catering and library services would probably be cut."

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