Upfront fees ditched as access and complaints are fine-tuned

January 9, 2004

The higher education bill is expected to address more aspects of higher education than just headline tuition fees issues.

The bill will replace upfront fees with tuition fees that are repayable after graduation. An Office for Fair Access will be created, as will an Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The new student complaints mechanism will become legally binding, and control of student finance for Wales will be devolved to the Welsh Assembly.

Tuition fees and bursaries

Annual tuition fees will rise to up to £3,000 and will vary between institutions and courses. Bursaries for less well-off students will be introduced, worth up to £2,700 a year including fee remission.

Each university will keep the cash raised from variable fees in return for a pledge to widen access.

The government will not ask universities to pay into a centralised system that redistributes revenue raised by the elite universities, which are expected to charge higher fees but have less demand for their bursaries, to the modern universities, which are expected to charge lower fees and have high demand for their bursaries.

Instead, the widening access premium is likely to be increased at the expense of the teaching grant, in effect redistributing money to those institutions with a large proportion of under-represented students.

Office for Fair Access

An access regulator to oversee student admissions will be created.

Admissions policies will remain the responsibility of individual universities and colleges. But institutions wishing to charge fees higher than the flat rate, currently £1,125, will have to have access agreements approved by Offa. These agreements will set out the action universities must take to safeguard and promote access.

But Offa could implement the English funding council's plans to set sector-wide targets for widening participation and retention.

The funding council had also proposed that the submission of widening-participation strategies would become a condition of grant. Offa might implement this.

Student complaints

The bill will provide for the decisions of the new Office of the Independent Adjudicator to become legally binding. This new mechanism for dealing with student complaints will replace the antiquated visitor system.

In the interim before the OIA's decisions become legally binding, institutions have been asked to join a voluntary scheme.

The independent adjudicator is Dame Ruth Deech, a former principal of St Anne's College, Oxford, appointed in October 2003.

Arts and Humanities Research Council

A new research council, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, will be created. Funded through the Office of Science and Technology, it will have the same legal standing as the existing six scientific research councils.

Student finance in Wales

The bill will pave the way for the Welsh Assembly to take charge of student finance in Wales. The Welsh Assembly has ruled out variable fees until 2007.

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