Wales

Tuition fee increases agreed for Welsh universities

Eight out of 10 universities in Wales will charge maximum tuition fees of £9,000 per year for some or all their courses, it has been announced.

The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales said every institution has had their plans to increase fees from September 2012 accepted.

Universities' initial proposals were all rejected last month.

The National Union of Students in Wales said the decision was a "sad day for higher education in Wales".

Students from Wales will have the increase in fees paid for them by the Welsh Government, which now faces a bill of around £280m a year to finance the grants.

It is thought most Welsh students will pay roughly £3,400 a year.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said the government was confident it could pay for the tuition fees policy.

Applicants from European Union countries will also be eligible for the subsidy, though students from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will pay the full rate.

The University and College Union (UCU) urged institutions to be cautious on how much they charge for courses.

It is concerned that charging £9,000 a year would be off-putting for some students.

"These courses provide a lifeline to many people trying to move up the social ladder, and for them to be put off by higher fees would be disastrous," as spokesman said.

However, Higher Education Wales (HEW), the representative body for universities in Wales, welcomed the approval.

Director Amanda Wilkinson said: "This has been a very testing but worthwhile process.

"Universities have emerged with stronger plans to deliver for students and prospective learners from backgrounds with little tradition of going to university."

In rejecting all initial applications, HEFCW said it encouraged institutions to set more ambitious targets.

Universities were told they need to meet certain requirements, including on equal access and improving the student experience.

Professor Philip Gummett, chief executive of HEFCW said: "It is clear from the fee plans that institutions will use a high percentage of their additional income to benefit students, from bursaries for students from disadvantaged communities to investing in new technology."

The Office for Fair Access is due to announce on Tuesday whether universities in England have had their fee plans accepted.

Full amount

Based on the Welsh Government's calculations, this would see about £50m a year of its budget going to universities in England, as students from Wales take their grants over the border.

The policy is costed on the basis of fees being £7,000 on average.

The total cost of the policy over nine years would be £1.5bn although this would be offset by a 35% cut to university budgets.

However, questions have been asked about its affordability if average fees are nearer £9,000.

Education Minister Leighton Andrews said it had been a robust process but he expected the performance of universities to be monitored.

"The Welsh Government expects institutions to provide value for money, support access to higher education from under-represented groups and to deliver an excellent student experience," he said.

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