Education & Family

New universities fear budget squeeze on access rules

University staircase
Image caption Universities face uncertain times over funding

New universities in England warn they could face unfair financial pressures when setting tuition fee levels.

The government is expected this week to set out how universities must protect access for poorer students, before they can raise tuition fees to up to £9,000.

New universities, already likely to serve more poorer students, are worried they will face tighter rules.

The Million+ group says universities will be forced to raise fees by the cuts in teaching budgets.

Representing new universities, the Million+ group has written to the government's advocate for access to education, Simon Hughes, expressing its concern about a financial squeeze from budget cuts and fee limits from access agreements.

'No option'

University leaders argue that the government's cutting of teaching budgets will force them to charge more than £6,000 per year, if courses are to be financially viable.

But universities wanting to raise fees above this level will have to meet access agreements, to be regulated by the Office for Fair Access, which could put a brake on higher fees.

"Simon Hughes and ministers cannot have it both ways. You can't make huge cuts to the public investment in universities and then restrict a university's ability to protect and improve the quality of the student experience," said Pam Tatlow, Million+ chief executive.

"The great majority of universities will be forced to charge higher fees in the future not because they want to, but because the extent of the government's cuts leave them with no other option."

New universities are also concerned that the requirements for more prestigious, research-intensive universities will be less stringent, allowing them to raise fees to the upper limit of £9,000 without recruiting and retaining similar levels of disadvantaged students.

"Universities need to be able to charge fees in excess of £6,000 if this is the best way of maintaining and improving the student experience. There cannot be one rule for those universities which receive the most research funding and another rule for others," writes the Million+ chief executive.

Universities face an uncertain future with funding.

Next month, individual universities will receive details of how much funding they will receive - and how much they will lose from higher education cuts.

In addition to £940m cuts confirmed last week, universities will lose a further £830m from teaching budgets the following year.

Universities will also be making decisions about how much they will charge in tuition fees from 2012, to replace the teaching budgets.

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