Education & Family

UK students bear higher university costs

Image caption Many students in the UK are set to pay fees of £9,000 a year from next year.

UK students are funding more of the cost of their university education themselves than in most other developed countries, a report suggests.

Only in Chile, South Korea and Japan do students pay a bigger share of their tuition costs than in the UK, it adds.

At 65.5%, UK students pay more than double the average for developed countries, says an OECD report.

And there is a warning that student numbers could be hit if fees rise too high.

The OECD report, Education at a Glance, makes statistical comparisons between education systems in the 34 member nations - the most developed in the world.

The figures cover changes between 2000 and 2009, in which tuition fees were increased for students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It says the proportion of university costs that UK students now bear doubled from 32.3% to 65.5% over the period. This does not include the forthcoming rise in tuition fees.

OECD's chief analyst Andreas Schleicher compared the government's higher education reforms with the trajectory that the US was following, with higher fees and increasing reliance on students' private contributions.

The comments were a reference to the trebling of fees to a maximum of £9,000 per year in 2012.

And Mr Schleicher cautioned against following the systems like those in the US and Chile, where spiralling costs have priced many people out of attending university.

And he warned that if fees went too high, the number of students signing up for university courses could be affected.

Although he acknowledged that there were differences with state-funded loans being offered to cover the cost of the fees.

Speaking to journalists in London, Mr Schleicher described how participation rates in the US had stagnated as a result of the rise in university tuition fees. The report said fees in US private universities in 2008-09 were £22,852.

'Quite strong'

"In the US one of the issues is cost, the cost for higher education has risen dramatically. It is very difficult for people to afford," he said.

"If you look at the UK system, at the moment it is quite strong. With public and private money, it probably is the best system.

"But there is a clear risk in there if fees get to a level that's unmanageable, if you free things up entirely - and universities may well want to charge fees a lot higher than £9,000 - then you can run into problems."

He added: "The success of a system depends on whether people continue to enter university."

If that did not happen, he said, it would be reasonable to assume that young people were saying: "I am not going to take the risk."

Universities minister David Willetts said the report confirmed the OECD's earlier verdict that our university system delivers for students, for universities and for taxpayers.

Loans and fees

"The OECD's definition of private spending includes our generous government-backed loans, which ensure there are no upfront fees.

"Other OECD countries do not finance higher education in this way. The loans have little in common with private borrowing - there is a progressive repayment system that benefits those in low-paid work or with caring responsibilities."

The report also revealed the changing face of what it described as the "global talent pool" of university educated adults.

It showed how China, where Mr Schleicher said a university was being built every week, is increasing its dominance.

Although just 5% of Chinese adults have a degree, because of its population size, the country ranks second behind the US in the global share of degree-educated adults.

And it shows how the dominance of the US is on the wane. At present a third of university-educated retirees reside there, but only one in five recent graduates are from the US.

Education spending

Nonetheless, the report shows there is still a significant advantage to going to university, with degree-level educated men in the UK expecting to earn $207,653 (approximately £131,578), excluding taxes, as a result.

UK spending on educational institutions as a share of GDP at 5.7% remains below the OECD average of 5.9%.

General secretary or the UCU lecturers' union Sally Hunt said the UK's poor record of investment in educating adults placed it at a disadvantage against other countries.

She added that the government's university reforms were an untested experiment being rushed through at an alarming rate.

"Overnight it is transferring the burden of funding higher education from the state to the student."

The Russell Group of leading universities said universities were already doing more with less, but added: "We must aim to bring our investment in higher education closer to that of our major competitors."

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