Education & Family

Tuition fee changes could cost more, says union leader

University graduation
Image caption Sally Hunt says the "American dream" has become an "English nightmare"

Higher education in England could cost the public more than the old system despite a tripling in tuition fees, a union leader says.

University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt will tell her annual congress in Manchester that funding is a "disastrous mess".

Institutions can now charge students up to £9,000 a year for their tuition.

The government said its funding changes had put universities on a sustainable footing and improved student life.

Privately-funded

Ms Hunt says the point where the new system will actually cost the public purse more than the old one is not far away.

She is also critical of the decision to allow more privately-funded colleges into the higher education system, saying the "American dream" has become an "English nightmare".

In some cases, she says, attendance is so poor lectures are being given with nobody in them apart from the tutor.

She will tell the conference that the coalition's record on education is "lamentable".

Ms Hunt is expected to say: "Lecturers sometimes joke that this would be an easy job without the students.

"But some of the for-profit colleges at the centre of the scandal about poor standards and little attendance by students, this seems to have been taken literally.

"Lectures with literally no-one in them except the tutor. Paid for by the taxpayer.

"UCU warned time and again that for-profit education would lead to the kind of free-for-all we saw in America and the many problems it created. Poor attendance, huge debts, low standards."

Election issue

She will add: "Despite the tripling of tuition fees, experts now think we are not far away from the point when this new system will actually cost the public purse more than the old one.

"Meanwhile, the further education loans system has been completely abandoned for apprenticeships and is running woefully under target for other adults."

She said all this meant funding must be an issue at the general election.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said swift and decisive action was being taken against private colleges where evidence of abuse of the system was found.

A spokesman said: "Our reforms have put universities on a sustainable footing and this is driving up the quality of the student experience as well as stimulating economic growth.

"Through these reforms we are protecting those on lower incomes, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds are now applying in record numbers.

"Private colleges have an important role to play in providing students with an alternative to university. Where standards are not being met we are taking action."

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