University fee rises reviewed by UK government

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Further debate on tuition fee changes has begun this week, as the role of the Office for Fair Access in approving the plans of universities commences.

The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) announced today that every one of the 123 universities and university colleges in England intend to charge £6,000 or more per year to full-time undergraduates from 2012.

In December, MPs voted to raise tuition fees to £9,000 a year only in ‘exceptional cases.’

Yet the average proposed tuition fee currently stands at £8,679.20, with almost three quarters of institutions choosing to charge the maximum £9,000 for at least some of their courses.

The deadline for universities to set their proposals was reached on Tuesday. It is now the responsibility of OFFA to consider and approve their access agreements, designed to widen intake amid fears that raising fees will have a negative impact on social mobility.

The National Union of Students has commented in a statement that the government has to give the access regulator extended powers.

NUS President Aaron Porter said, ‘Ministers have claimed that OFFA has the power to regulate fees, when in reality this process is nothing more than one of rubber stamping vice chancellors’ attempts to charge as much as they can get away with. With no one to stop them, universities are rushing to charge the maximum £9,000.’

“Government ministers must take responsibility for the costly chaos they have created and take the entire scheme back to the drawing board before it causes irreparable damage to universities.’

Liam Burns, who is due to take over from Porter in July, has described the new system as ‘complete chaos’.

It has been argued that Oxford’s decision to charge £9,000 was necessary in order to preserve its prestigous reputation.

Yet this is undermined by the fact that Oxford Brookes University – which is not in the top 40 universities according to the Guardian’s league table – also plans to charge the same fees. The University of East London, ranked second bottom, has stated that it intends to charge a flat rate of £9,000.

However, one undergraduate said, ‘Raising tuition fees to £9,000 is a necessary step to keep Oxford a first rate university; however the extent to which access is increased will be the marker for how fair the system is, and from what I’ve heard so far, Oxford will have some of the largest schemes to improve access.’

Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour party, has said that at least 10% of university places for undergraduates would have to be cut to fund the coalition’s tuition fee reforms. This equates to 36,000 full-time places each year.

However, Business Secretary Vince Cable warned that institutions regarded by ministers as overpriced could have places withdrawn.

On the OFFA website, it is said that ‘for agreements submitted by yesterday’s deadline, we will issue all approvals at the same time. We aim to do this by Monday 11 July. We do not plan to provide any further comment on submissions before this date.’

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