Overseas and postgraduate students at the University of Warwick may be asked to pay "market-sensitive" tuition fees next year, prompting warnings from the students' union of creeping privatisation, writes Harriet Swain.
University managers have asked heads of department to consider how to determine the "market" for a particular course and suggest fee levels, taking into account cost and demand.
The proposals, which would come into force from October 2001, would only affect courses for overseas students and postgraduates but students fear the university could be laying the ground for charging differentiated fees more widely.
Under the current fee structure, overseas and postgraduate students on programmes that are not self-financing are charged a set fee if they are studying an "art" and another for a "science". But programmes that finance themselves make much more detailed distinctions in charges, taking into account not only the costs of delivering the course but also its market value.
The plan is to introduce this system for all courses, except full-time undergraduate degrees for which the Pounds 1,025 charge for home and EU students is laid down by law.
A working party is looking at the ratio of applicants to places on particular courses, take-up rates and fee levels at competitor universities.
University spokesman Peter Dunn said the working party was looking only at postgraduate courses. He said no British PhD students and only a few of those studying for MAs would be affected and the price of some courses could go down.
But Martin Biggs, president of the student union, said: "(Our) concern is that this university is examining the advantages of privatisation."
He warned that students leaving undergraduate courses with large debts would be unwilling to study on the more expensive MA courses.
"Students are averaging Pounds 12,000 worth of debt. If they inflate the prices for masters courses, people will be put off studying for masters and PhDs."