Universities keen on £9k tuition fees

By Alex Stevenson

Enthusiasm among most universities to charge higher tuition fees than ministers had expected is set to exacerbate coalition tensions over the policy.

A survey by the BBC out today revealed at least two-thirds of universities are keen to charge £9,000 on some or all of their courses.

Labour said 13 of the 17 Russell Group universities are planning to charge the maximum £9,000, while across all universities 95% are planning to charge more than the anticipated average fee of £7,500.

Liberal Democrat concerns about the policy were partially muted when the issue was put before a Commons vote because of promises that steps would be taken to ensure the measures would not deter the poorest from applying.

The junior party’s concerns could return to become a major coalition headache again as the full extent of universities’ ambitions becomes clear.

“This unfair and shambolic tuition fee policy is now unravelling,” Labour leader Ed Miliband said.

“It will cost students more. It will now cost the taxpayer more. And it may cost thousands of young people their place at university.”

Labour says the increased tuition fee charges will cost the taxpayer because of the subsidy paid on student loans.

If average fees are £8,500 this could lead to a funding shortfall of £450 million, according to House of Commons library figures. This could mean as many as 36,000 fewer students attending university each year.

The number of universities planning on charging the maximum £9,000 – intended by the coalition to only be used in “exceptional circumstances” – is finally assessed by the Office for Fair Access.

Today is the deadline for universities planning to charge over £6,000 to submit their tuition fee plans to the watchdog.

Yesterday the University and Colleges Union said London Metropolitan University’s decision to cut 70% of its courses in a bid to maintain financial sustainability reflected a wider risk to courses and departments under threat.

“Here is concrete proof that ministers have succeeded in creating a climate of fear that is panicking institutions into making hasty cuts,” general secretary Sally Hunt said.

“London Met’s decision to axe hundreds of courses is completely disproportionate, but since these enormous funding cuts were announced, UCU has repeatedly warned that university courses and departments will close and in the worst case scenarios, the future of whole institutions will be put at risk.”