By Mansoor Iqbal, Education Writer
It has been confirmed that a number of universities in England will be allowed to raise their tuition fees for domestic undergraduates to the maximum permitted amount of £9,000. 47 out of 123 universities will be charging the maximum fee across the board, with just over 80 charging it for some of their courses.
Initial proposals to raise tuition fees allowed universities to raise their fees to £6,000, which would increase to £9,000 in ‘exceptional circumstances’. However, the only requirement universities had to meet in order to charge this amount was that they produced plans to widen participation with which Offa (the Office for Fair Access) was satisfied – the result was tidal waves of universities proposing fees significantly higher than £6,000.
Offa has not rejected the proposed fees levels of any universities, indicating that it is satisfied with the access agreements made by all institutions, for which it has been criticized by some parties. Universities that do not successfully widen participation after the higher fees are introduced, however, will be penalized. It should be noted that Offa only had the power to approve or reject access agreements, not to set the fees.
Average fees are £8,393, or £8,161 when fee waivers – a key facet of most universities’ plans to widen access – are introduced to the equation. A small number of institutions’ average fees remain at £9,000, even after access schemes are taken into account, due to opting for bursaries and other forms of financial support rather than fee waivers.
The same fees will apply to students from the EU who come to study in England. Other international students, who pay the full cost of tuition at a level set by individual institutions, are not directly affected by the changes. It remains to be seen if there will be a knock on effect – some universities have already indicated that such students will pay slightly more than at present (bear in mind that small annual increases are par for the course).
Eight of the ten Welsh universities have also priced some or all of their courses at £9,000, winning the approval of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. Welsh and EU students will continue to pay only £3,400 a year at Welsh universities though, as the Welsh Assembly will subsidize any increase over current levels. English, Scottish and Northern Irish students will pay the full fee. The average fee, without take any subsidies into account, will be £8,800.
Fees will not be paid upfront by students, but rather by public money in the form of loans (in the case of domestic and EU students). These will be paid back after graduation, when graduates earn over a certain amount of money (currently £21,000). Average fees of £7,500 were anticipated by the UK government when these plans were devised. The higher actual levels will result in a greater cost to public purse, for which the government has unsurprisingly come under fire.
The increased fees will apply from the beginning of the 2012/13 academic year. Scottish universities remain free for Scottish students. Students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland can be charged up to £9,000. Northern Irish fees remain frozen at £3,290 for the time being. As with England and Wales, EU students will pay the same as the locals in both, and non-EU international tuition levels will be set by the institutions.