UUK board rejects HEA price hike

Vice-chancellors call for price freeze from sector's teaching champion

February 1, 2016
Two people facing away from each other on a bench

Vice-chancellors have rejected the Higher Education Academy’s proposal to significantly increase its subscription fees.

At a board meeting of Universities UK, members decided not to support the HEA’s price rise, which is set to come into force in September, and called for this year’s fees to be rolled over into 2016-17 instead.

The HEA’s proposals would see subscription charges double for most universities, with the largest institutions, those with the equivalent of 30,000 full-time students, facing an annual fee of £65,000.

Other institutions would see smaller increases, and some would get a price cut, under a new banding system.

Times Higher Education understands that the UUK board’s decision reflects growing disquiet among vice-chancellors at the scale of the increase, and the perceived lack of consultation.

UUK has also come out against the HEA’s plan to apply for chartered status, a move which, combined with the introduction of membership fees for individual academics, could see increased costs being passed on to institutions.

The UUK board has written to the HEA and to UUK members to express its view, putting the sector’s teaching champion under pressure to reconsider its position or risk losing support.

“The UUK board…did not support either the proposed subscription increase [or] the application for royal charter status,” a UUK spokesman said. “Although it is clearly up to individual institutions how they choose to reply to the HEA, UUK wrote to the academy and UUK members on Friday afternoon to inform them of the UUK board’s position.”

The move comes amid concern about the cumulative impact of increased subscription fees being demanded from institutions, with several other agencies, such as Jisc, redesigning their financial model in the face of reduced funding council support.

In addition, the higher education Green Paper proposes that providers would have to pay a subscription charge to support the planned Office for Students.

As a result, the UUK board has ordered a “wider review of sector agency subscriptions, with a focus on efficiency and value for money”, the spokesman added.

An HEA spokesman expressed “surprise” at UUK’s intervention, highlighting that the price increase was the direct result of the withdrawal of funding council support.

“UUK has been party to the development and updating of our plans since the funding councils first gave notice, well over 18 months ago, of their intention to remove central grants to the HEA,” the spokesman said. “We also note that the UUK’s position was not informed by consultation with its membership.

“Our board, which has a scheduled meeting later this week, will now consider its full response to the letter from UUK and expects to issue a statement before the weekend.”

chris.havergal@tesglobal.com

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