Tuition fees could rise from their the current level of £3,225 up to £14,000, depending on the outcome of this week’s parliamentary election. An official review into university funding led by Lord Browne, former CEO of BP, is due to report back in the autumn.
The report, commissioned by Labour with agreement from the Conservatives, may recommend that the current cap be lifted completely. This would mean that most students would have to pay for their degree in full. This equates to around £7,000 per annum for most students. For more expensive courses, including sciences and medicine, this could rise to as much as £14,000.
With the election just days away, the balance of the new parliament will have a dramatic effect on the implementation of the review. Both Labour and the Conservatives have refused to make any firm policy commitments on student fees until after the report is published. Currently the Liberal Democrats are the only party who oppose tuition fees, with proposals to stop final year students’ fees next year and to phase out all fees across a six-year period.
In the event of a hung parliament, it is uncertain whether they would be prepared to abandon the policy.
Felix Bungay, Chairman of the York Tories, said that in the event of a Conservative-Liberal coalition there may be a compromise with tuition fees remaining at their current levels. However, he also stated that he didn’t think “it was a very high priority for the parties”.
Around 235 Labour and Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) have signed the NUS pledge on tuition fees, stating that they would vote against any bill in parliament which would increase tuition fees, casting into doubt whether such a bill could be enacted.
The news comes at a time when pressure from university vice-chancellors to overhaul the current funding system has been mounting, following cuts to the higher education budget.
The University of York’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Students, Jane Grenville, told Nouse: “We don’t, as a University, lobby government to put fees up. We would be very happy if government supported Higher Education from the public purse, and [Vice-Chancellor] Brian [Cantor] made representations publicly about this last year, but to no avail.”
Grenville continued to state that “realistically… we don’t think that that will happen, so we will now wait to react to what comes out.”
Although the report will not be published until after the election, it has been made clear by Browne that he favours completely abolishing the cap.
The cap would not be removed immediately; rather, new fees would be phased in. Universities would be able to raise fees on an annual basis. This could be by as much as £1,000 per year.
“We oppose any increase in tuition fees and any further marketisation of higher education.”
The Sunday Times has suggested that increases could be felt from as early as 2013, and that “the subsidised interest rate on student loans would go, with bursaries ensuring that applicants from poorer families were not put off university.”
A rise in the interest rate could come into affect almost immediately, as the rate for student loans is set on an annual basis. It is unclear as to whether a change in the interest rate would affect those already have loans from the Student Loans Company.
Many have raised concerns about the effect that a rise in tuitions fees could potentially have. The current NUS President, Wes Streeting, described rises in tuition fees as a “nightmare scenario”. Streeting added that it “would lead to students choosing courses on the basis of cost, rather than suitability.”
NUS President-elect, Aaron Porter, who will take up his post in June, urges students to continue to campaign against a lifting of the cap on fees. “This is a time to continue pressurising politicians not to increase the cap on fees, and we will be publicly shaming those that refuse to sign our ‘Vote for Students pledge’, which has already been signed by more than 700 candidates. Students, families and the wider public overwhelmingly oppose higher fees and I will fight to ensure that politicians listen to them.”
A first-year English literature student said: “We’re already taking out loans to be able to pay, what happens if fees increase further?”
Another second-year student, however, suggested that changes in the structure of fees may prove beneficial for some students: “Finally, arts students are not going to be forced to subsidise expensive science degrees any more. I think that those degrees are important, but I fail to see why those who only have four contact hours a week should pay the same as those who have 20.”
“This is the time to continue pressurising politicians not to increase the cap on fees.”
YUSU have also commented, saying: “We oppose any increase in tuition fees and any further marketisation of higher education. We’re awaiting the outcome of the Browne review and we’ll be campaigning to ensure that any of the proposals in it will be in the best interest of York’s student body.”
Top-up fees were first implemented in 2006; the bill to introduce them was narrowly passed by the House of Commons with 316 votes to 311.