Tuition fees: Across the UK

The debate in England following Lord Browne's review on university funding is being carefully watched around the UK.

Lord Browne recommended removing the cap on tuition fees, which currently stands at £3,290 a year.

But ministers say they plan to limit fees to £9,000 per year, with universities facing obligations to act to recruit more students from disadvantaged backgrounds if they want to charge more than £6,000.

The BBC News Website looks at the situation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Scotland

Scottish students studying at Scottish universities do not have to pay fees - although these (currently £1,820 per year, £2,895 for medicine) are still paid to the universities from the public purse.

UK TUITION FEES

  • England, Wales, Northern Ireland: Max £3,290 pa
  • Scotland: Free to Scottish and EU students, £1,820 pa to other UK (£2,895 for medicine)
  • Fees covered by loans paid back after graduate earnings go above £15,000
  • Students from elsewhere in the EU pay the same as those locally
  • Students from outside the EU pay whatever the university charges

But universities, the Scottish Conservative party and even the Scottish National Union of Students are increasingly calling for some kind of graduate contribution to boost cash-strapped institutions.

Sir Andrew Cubie, whose inquiry in 1999 recommended the abolition of up-front tuition fees says it will be very difficult for Scotland to sustain current funding levels without some form of graduate contribution.

The National Union of Students is pressing in any future review of university funding here, for a focus on offering financial help while students are studying.

They point out that Scottish students in Scotland can struggle more with maintenance costs as student loans are smaller.

Students from middle class homes are commonly eligible for loans of just over £900 compared to over £3,000 in England.

NUS Scotland is not totally opposed to money flowing the other way once students graduate and are on healthy salaries. It suggests at that point there could be a financial contribution to the costs of degrees.

Last week for the first time the representative body, Universities Scotland made a similar call.

The BBC's Scotland education correspondent, Seonag Mackinnon, says the body appears to have been reluctant to do this before now partly because of division among principals and also because of influence from the Scottish Government which has taken great pride in the principle of free higher education.

First Minister Alex Salmond once said publicly: "The rocks will melt with the sun before I will agree to tuition fees."

While rejecting anything called "tuition fees" ministers have now agreed to release a green discussion paper next month to explore various funding options.

University leaders have welcomed this but fear it comes too late to compensate for potential cuts in next month's Scottish budget.

Students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland studying in Scotland have to pay tuition fees of £1,820 a year (£2,895 for medicine), but there have been reports that the Scottish government is considering raising this if English universities increase fees.

Students from elsewhere in the EU get their fees waived, as Scottish students do.

Wales

Wales has introduced tuition fees, with the cap at the same level as in England.

MAXIMUM MAINTENANCE LOANS

  • England: £4,950
  • Scotland: £5,067 (means tested)
  • Wales: £4,745
  • Northern Ireland: £4,840

Until 2010-11, all Welsh students studying in Wales were given a grant of £1,890 towards their fees.

This has now been abolished, but loans are available to cover fees, and means-tested maintenance grants have been boosted from a maximum of £2,906 to £5,000 (for students from households earning £18,370 or less).

The Browne review and the UK government's subsequent policy decisions technically apply only to English universities. But the effect in Wales will be significant.

Vice chancellors and policy makers say it is impossible for two different fees systems to operate in England and Wales, which means the assembly government will have to respond.

For the 25,000 English students studying in Welsh universities each year, a decision will have to be made on how much to charge them - whether they can really be asked to pay more than their Welsh counterparts.

BBC Wales education correspondent Ciaran Jenkins says this has happened before and could happen again.

The plan for English universities is worrying news for welsh students too, he adds, as whenever fees have gone up over the border in the past it has not been long before an increase has followed in Wales.

There are about 16,000 Welsh students who go to English universities every year.

The Welsh education minister has warned it could cost his government between £70m and £110m a year to support fees of up to £9,000 for them - which would amount to Wales effectively subsidising the English university system, he says.

There are also concerns about the funding gap - Welsh universities are already poorer than those in England and cannot afford to fall further behind.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, as in England, students are charged fees of up to £3,290, which are covered by subsidised loans.

Maximum maintenance grants

  • England - £2,906 (income under £25,000)
  • Wales £5,000 (income under £18,370)
  • Scotland £2,640 (income under £19,310)
  • N Ireland - £3,475 (income under £19,203)

Means-tested grants are for a maximum of £3,475 for students from household with incomes of £19,203 or less.

Joanne Stuart of the Institute of Directors was asked to review the system.

She had already recommended maintaining the fee cap at the current level, but after Lord Browne's report was published, she was asked to review her conclusions.

Students fearing Northern Ireland will raise fees have held protests at Stormont.

BBC Northern Ireland education correspondent Maggie Taggart says the government there has not committed itself to following the English example, but Queens University in Belfast at least will feel hard done by if it is not permitted to charge the same amount as other Russell group universities.

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Ulster, however, has hit out at Lord Browne's recommendations, saying they amount to the "privatisation of higher education".

"That is what a small self-appointed group of self-serving universities have been pushing for over a longer period, and they may now well be getting their way in England. They recruit largely from private schools and do little for widening access," said Professor Richard Barnett.

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