V-cs seize their £3,000 chance

January 31, 2003

Over a third of universities will charge the full £3,000 fee on all or the majority of their courses, according to a THES survey of vice-chancellor responses to the government's white paper.

Nearly two-thirds of universities will charge the full £3,000 fee on some courses. The remaining universities said that they were undecided or not in a position to say. Many said that it would depend on "supply and demand". Only one university, a new university, said it would not charge the full fee on any course.

Those anticipating charging the full fee on all their courses tended to be Russell Group universities, although two new universities - Central England and Middlesex - said they would do so.

Michael Driscoll, vice-chancellor of Middlesex, said: "It was clear at a meeting of Universities UK last week that the vast majority of universities are moving rapidly towards charging fees at the higher end of the band. If universities are to believe their own rhetoric, then they will not be able to deliver on quality without this extra money."

A spokesperson from lecturers' union Natfhe said: "When price, whether we like it or not, is taken as a proxy for quality, who wants to advertise that their course is second rate? Lower fees may attract fewer students."

Over half of English vice-chancellors responded to the survey, and many of them asked that their answers remain anonymous.

When asked whether they welcomed the opportunity to charge fees of £3,000, they were split down the middle.

Half welcomed the opportunity, a third opposed the move and a handful gave a mixed response. A number said that it was "the second best option after increased state funding".

Only one vice-chancellor thought that fear of debt would not be a deterrent to poorer students and one vice-chancellor thought the maintenance grant was sufficient. The vast majority thought that debt would deter applications to postgraduate research.

If chancellor Gordon Brown was behind the idea of an access regulator, The THES survey will give him little comfort. One vice-chancellor supported the idea. The vast majority were against it, but a number said that it depended on what the regulator would do.

The white paper received a mixed reaction on research. Asked whether the research framework outlined in the white paper would damage their university, half of vice-chancellors said yes, a handful were undecided and just over a third said it would not damage it. Only one new university vice-chancellor said that the research framework would not damage his university.

Asked whether they welcomed the greater selectivity of research funding that the introduction of a 6* grade would bring, seven vice-chancellors said yes. These tended to be Russell Group universities.

The THES sent the same questionnaire to members of the Standing Conference of Principals - with the addition of one question on whether colleges would apply to become a university in light of the fact that research degree powers are no longer needed.

Half of Scop's 34 members replied. Three said that they would not apply for university status because they were specialist institutions for which this was not appropriate.

The rest said that they were either already applying for degree-awarding powers and/or that they would apply for the university title in due course.

Just three respondents welcomed the opportunity to charge fees of £3,000. Two institutions ruled out charging the full fee on any of their courses. Four said they might charge it on a minority of courses. The rest will wait and see.

Nearly all thought the maintenance grant was not enough and that debt would deter poorer students and deter applications to postgraduate research.

About half of respondents thought the new research framework would damage their institution, while a quarter said that it would not and the rest were undecided. The vast majority opposed the introduction of the 6* grade. The access regulator got a thumbs down - only one Scop member supported the idea.

'Fees proposals are equitable'

"An historic opportunity to provide the means for the country's best universities to raise sufficient private funding for their continued success has not been fully taken. Even with the £1,900 maximum increase in fees, the college will continue to lose in the region of £1,000 per student per year."
Sir Richard Sykes , rector, Imperial College London "

Quibbles aside, the fee proposals are do-able, workable and equitable."
Steven Schwartz , vice-chancellor, Brunel University

"I find it difficult to understand how a government that says it wants to broaden and deepen access across the higher education sector is choosing to increase student debt."
Derek Fraser , vice-chancellor, Teesside University


  Base: 32 Vice-chancellors

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