University fees: Half opting for top fees, survey says

By Angela Harrison
Education correspondent, BBC News

Image caption,
Tuition fees will rise in 2012

Far more English university students than originally expected will be paying the maximum tuition fee of £9,000 a year, BBC research suggests.

Half of the 54 universities which took part in a BBC survey said they would charge £9,000 for all courses.

And about two thirds said they would charge the top rate for some or all courses.

Ministers say it is "early days" and they expect the average fee to be "significantly lower".

The average fee of those universities taking part in the survey was about £8,500.

Originally, ministers had said they wanted the top fee to be charged only in "exceptional circumstances".

The BBC research suggests there will big differences in the financial support offered to poorer students, with some being offered as much as a £6,000 "discount" or fee waiver.

Among the universities that will charge £9,000 for all courses, the fee waiver for the poorest students ranges from £2,000 to £6,000 a year.

Changes mean that from autumn 2012, universities in England will be able to raise tuition fees from the present level of £3,290 a year to between £6,000 and £9,000, if they meet certain conditions.

Students will pay the fees once they graduate and are earning at least £21,000, and there will be support for those from poorer homes.

More than 50 of England's 134 universities took part in the survey.

The BBC contacted the 111 state-funded universities that offer undergraduate courses, but not private universities nor those offering only postgraduate courses and 54 responded.

More than 30 universities have already made their plans public and have details on their websites.

The BBC survey includes institutions that have not yet published their fee levels, which gave the information on the basis that they would not be identified.

A total of 45 universities were able to give a clear average fee. The average of these was £8,536.

Of the 10 prestigious Russell Group universities that took part, nine said they would charge £9,000 for all courses.

Their fee waivers, or discounts, for poorer students range between £2,500 and £6,000.

Media caption,
Prof Janet Beer, Oxford Brookes University, on how students can avoid extra fees

Of the 1994 Group, which represents other leading research universities, eight out of 11 universities that responded said they intended to charge £9,000 across the board.

Of the newer Million+ universities, only half - six out of the 12 that responded - will be charging £9,000 for some or all courses. Two say that they will charge £9,000 for all courses.

The fees should all be made public by late June or mid-July.

They will be published by the Office for Fair Access (Offa), together with the extra bursaries and fee waivers they plan to offer poorer students.

Offa is working through universities' plans for these at the moment and has to approve them.

It has the power to take away a university's right to charge fees of more than £6,000 a year if it is not doing enough to attract and financially support students from poorer homes.

Threatened cuts

Ministers have warned that further cuts could be made to teaching budgets if too many universities set higher fees.

Originally, they had said they had expected universities to charge £9,000 only in "exceptional circumstances".

The government based its calculations on what the new system would cost the state, on an estimate that the average fee for a university course would be £7,500 a year.

Media caption,
Universities Minister David Willetts: "The crucial factor is that this is not what the student has to pay upfront"

But universities are independent bodies and many say they need to charge maximum fees to make up for the loss of funds from teaching grants.

In response to the survey, Universities Minister David Willetts said it was "important to look beyond the £9,000 headline".

Once bursaries for poorer students and lower fees likely to be charged by private providers were taken into account, he said, the average was likely to be "significantly below" £9,000.

Mr Willetts also says universities could have 10% more in cash terms by 2014 under the new system.

The government's changes to university funding are based on the idea that fees will rise and replace money being taken from teaching budgets.

Course closures

Four universities surveyed by the BBC said they expected courses to close as a result of the funding changes.

One university said it expected more than 10 courses to close.

More than 30 universities have now declared the fees they plan to charge next year.

Those planning to charge the maximum are Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College London, University College London, Manchester, Warwick, Essex, Leeds, Durham, Lancaster, Bath, Birmingham, Loughborough, Exeter, Sussex, Surrey, Liverpool, Aston, Liverpool John Moores, Reading, Kent, Central Lancashire, Leicester, Nottingham, Oxford Brookes, City University London and University College Falmouth.

The BBC News website has published a list of the universities that have declared their fees so far.

The Shadow Business Secretary John Denham said the government had "completely lost control" and future generations of students had been betrayed and would face "even higher fees than the government promised parliament three months ago".

"With more universities charging £9000 the government is set to have a big funding gap they will need to fill," he said.

These charges relate to universities in England. In Scotland, students do not pay tuition fees. In Wales, fees are going to rise to a maximum of £9,000 as in England, but they will be subsidised for Welsh students who will pay no more than £3,290 wherever they study in the UK.

A review into fees in Northern Ireland is on-going.

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