Education & Family

Universities push for higher fees

Students Image copyright PA
Image caption Universities say the £9,000 fee is eroding in value and should be allowed to increase

Universities are calling for the limit on tuition fees in England to be lifted so that they could rise with inflation above the current £9,000 maximum.

Universities UK, representing university leaders, says that the value of the fees, fixed since 2012, has been declining in real terms.

University heads want the value of tuition fees to be protected.

The Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, will tell university heads that they need to improve levels of teaching.

Mr Johnson is to give his first big speech as minister responsible for higher education, when he addresses a Universities UK meeting on Wednesday.

He will call for a much greater emphasis on improving the quality of teaching in universities, saying it should have equal status to ensuring the quality of research.

Living costs

But the university heads will call on the minister to increase funding for higher education.

They want the £9,000 cap on tuition fees to be lifted to increase funds for universities, and they want an increase in the maintenance support available to students.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Jo Johnson is calling for higher standards of teaching in universities

Janet Beer, vice-president of Universities UK, said the value of the tuition fee was "being eroded considerably by inflation".

"Allowing the value of the fee to be maintained in real terms is essential to allow universities to continue to deliver a high-quality learning experience for students", she said.

Prof Beer said: "Financial support for students' living costs needs to be improved."

She said that students were more concerned about the lack of support when they were studying than the debt being built up to be repaid later.

"These changes should be made now to ensure universities can continue to provide high quality education that meets the needs of students," she said.

Mr Johnson faced questions in the House of Commons on Tuesday about whether he would rule out an increase in tuition fees during the next five years.

Labour's Liam Byrne asked: "Will tuition fees go up in this Parliament? A simple 'Yes' or 'No' will do."

But Mr Johnson did not make any definite commitments, saying all departments were reviewing their spending and the government would "ensure we have a stable and sustainable funding regime for our universities and higher education institutions in general".

The minister's speech to universities will set out plans for a "teaching excellence framework" to compare the quality of teaching in a way that parallels the "research excellence framework", which measures research and determines the allocation of funding.

He wants universities to devote as much attention to teaching as "fee-paying students and prospective employers have a right to expect".

"There must be recognition of excellent teaching - and clear financial and reputational incentives to make 'good' teaching even better," Mr Johnson will say.

Megan Dunn, president of the National Union of Students, said: "Universities UK's call to upgrade the tuition fee cap is further evidence this funding system is failing.

"The proportion of graduates unable to pay back student loans is already increasing at such a rate that the Treasury is approaching the point at which it will get zero financial reward from the tripling of tuition fees."