English universities will be allowed to raise their undergraduate tuition fees to a maximum of £9,250 in 2017-18, as fees increase in line with inflation in the first year of the teaching excellence framework (TEF).
Jo Johnson, the universities and science minister, confirmed the figure for publicly funded institutions in a written ministerial statement on 21 July, along with the increased fee cap for private providers of £6,165 for 2017-18.
But the plan to raise fees could be disrupted if it is challenged by MPs. Although raising fees in line with inflation does not require a vote in Parliament, MPs could challenge the move by “praying against” with an Early Day Motion – which would mean the fee rise going to a vote in the autumn.
In year one of the TEF, providers wishing to raise fees in line with inflation must have successfully passed through review by the Quality Assurance Agency to gain a rating of “meets expectations”.
As virtually all publicly funded institutions have passed QAA review successfully, there will, in reality, have been little scope for doubt as to the level of fees in 2017.
Mr Johnson’s statement says: “For all new students and eligible continuing students who started their full-time courses on or after 1 September 2012 and are undertaking courses at publicly funded higher education providers that have achieved a TEF rating of meets expectations, maximum tuition fee caps will be increased by forecast inflation (2.8 per cent) in 2017-18.
“For publicly funded providers that have achieved a TEF rating of Meets Expectations and have an access agreement with the Office for Fair Access (Offa), the maximum tuition fee cap for full-time courses will be £9,250 in 2017-18.”
The measure of inflation used by the government for setting the tuition fee cap is the retail price index, excluding mortgage interest payments.
Meanwhile, the maximum part-time tuition fee cap will be £6,935 in 2017-18, for publicly funded providers gaining a TEF rating of meets expectations.
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of access charity The Sutton Trust, said that while the trust welcomed “moves to improve teaching quality, it is unfair that fees will rise with inflation but the level at which graduates start to repay their loans remains frozen at £21,000.
“And a real concern is that the removal of maintenance grants will almost certainly deter poorer students, who now face debts of over £50,000 on graduation.
“This announcement also does nothing to address the crisis in mature and part-time students, whose numbers have fallen dramatically since the 2012 fees rise.”
Meanwhile, Labour's shadow higher education minister Gordon Marsden said the government had acted cynically in announcing the fee cap rise on the last day of Parliament before the summer recess.
Writing on Times Higher Education's website, he called the year one TEF increase a “cash-in coupon” that “because it demands no evidence of excellence, risks tarnishing the entire TEF exercise even before it has been properly discussed in Parliament”.