Surrey University blames £9,000 tuition fees on cuts

Graduates Surrey said it was also worried that charging less then £9,000 would hit perceptions of quality

Surrey University has become the fifth institution to announce it intends to charge maximum fees of £9,000 a year from 2012, blaming budget cuts.

It said it faced a 60% cut to teaching funds and 70% to its capital grant.

The university said it was also worried about the impact of proposed changes to visa rules, which could reduce income from international students.

The government has warned that, if too many universities charge £9,000, it may have to cut teaching grants further.

Surrey University follows Oxford, Imperial College, Durham and Exeter, which have already said they want to charge the maximum yearly tuition fee.

Also, governing bodies at Cambridge and Liverpool - and according to documents seen by the local press, Leeds - are preparing to vote on proposals to charge £9,000 per year.

No institutions have yet named fees below £9,000, although Liverpool Hope has said it will not charge the maximum.

In a statement, Surrey University said analysis indicated that it needed to charge £9,000 to ensure it compensated for the cuts.

Future fears

It said it would offer a package of bursaries and fee waivers for students on low incomes, but listed the cost of activities to widen participation among the reasons for setting the highest possible fees.

Universities charging higher-level fees must commit to an "access agreement" specifying the measures they will take to draw in students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The university said it was taking account of possible changes to student visas, which it said could lead to a 20% cut in overseas students costing the university about £3m, and further potential cuts to student numbers, or teaching and research funding.

However, Surrey also said it wished "to avoid the very real danger that charging less than £9,000 will have a negative impact on the perception of our quality".

Vice-chancellor Christopher Snowden said the priority was to "safeguard the quality of the student experience" while ensuring access was based "only on merit and not the ability to afford a high-quality education".

Universities Minister David Willetts has said universities should charge higher fees "in exceptional circumstances".

But some experts expect the majority of universities to opt for £9,000.

University of Surrey Students' Union President Malcolm Hunt said: "Whilst it is disappointing to know that future Surrey students will have to pay almost thre times the level of fees of students today, it has not come as a great shock.

"Huge government cuts to university funding and new regulations on how universities use their fees have led to a system that firmly encourages the maximum fee to be charged across institutions."

Usman Ali, National Union of Students vice-president, said: "With every additional university that joins the '£9k club', the government's assertion that their rushed plans would be a good deal for students collapses further."

Ministers have warned that universities should not all seek to charge the maximum, as the funding for student finance is based on an average fees level of £7,500.

This would mean higher spending for the government as it shoulders the cost of subsidised student loans, which are paid off after graduation.

Mr Willetts has said universities may face further cuts to their teaching grants if they set fees too high.

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