More than one-third of English universities have been given permission to charge fees of £9,000. Student leaders tell Channel 4 News the Government must be “honest and frank about the situation”.
Students starting degree courses from next year face average tuition fees of almost £8,500. More than one-third of universities will charge £9,000 for all courses.
Overall, almost three-fifths of universities will charge the maximum £9,000 for at least one of their undergraduate courses.
University fee levels for next year have been released by the Office for Fair Access (Offa), as it published each institution’s plans for preventing disadvantaged youngsters being priced out of higher education.
Every university which wants to charge more than £6,000 in fees has had to have its proposals for recruiting poorer students approved by Offa.
These “access agreements” will be reviewed each year, with institutions which fail to meet their agreed targets on recruitment and retention facing fines or losing the right to charge more than £6,000.
Vince Cable stated that fees over £6,000 would only be levied in exceptional circumstances but his solemn promise has quite clearly now been left in tatters. Liam Burns, NUS
Offa has confirmed that 123 universities, plus 18 further education (FE) colleges, submitted access agreements for approval. Of these, all but two, both from FE colleges, have been agreed so far.
Offa insisted that just 7 per cent of institutions will have an estimated average fee of £9,000 after fee waivers for poorer students are taken into account.
The Director of Fair Access Sir Graeme Davies said: “Our assessment of the access agreements submitted to us has been a thoroughly rigorous and robust process.
“In some cases we were unhappy with the first draft we received but institutions responded positively and, after a period of scrutiny and negotiation, 139 access agreements now meet our conditions.
But student leaders are not satisfied with the arrangements.
Liam Burns, President of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: “Fee waivers are being used in a cynical attempt to cover up the mess made when the Government trebled the tuition fee cap, instead of properly supporting less-wealthy students.
“Business Secretary Vince Cable had stated that fees over £6,000 would only be levied in exceptional circumstances but his solemn promise has quite clearly now been left in tatters.”
He added: “If access agreements are to be worth more than the paper they’re written on, they must be genuinely binding and Offa must be given real powers to hold institutions to account when they fail to deliver.”
Emilie Tapping, Vice President Academic Affairs at King’s College London Students’ Union, told Channel 4 News that only time would tell if the Government lived up to its promises on widening participation.
She added: “Institutions must concentrate on putting cash in the pockets of poorer students as well as fee waivers to avoid students falling in to commercial debt.
“The fact that the average fee and number of institutions charging near £9,000 is much higher than expected only further proves the idea that the funding cuts are not so much ‘putting students at the heart of higher education’ but rather using their cash to fill a funding gap.
“It’s time to stop trying to pull the wool over the eyes of students and the general public and start being honest and frank about this situation.”