Tuition fees review launched

By staff

A review of university tuition fees has been launched by the government, amid warnings from student groups that it could be a “stitch up”.

Lord Mandelson warned there could be a raise in tuition fees last week, and has vocally supported variable fees.

“Variable tuition fees provide institutions with a secure income stream worth £1.3bn, helping to sustain the long-term financial health and viability of the sector,” he said.

“Since they were introduced student numbers have continued to rise, along with the numbers coming from lower-income backgrounds.

“This is an important piece of work which will require extensive consultation with all who would be affected by any changes, including current and potential students.”

But student groups are concerned higher fees have already been assumed.

“There is a real danger that this review will pave the way for higher fees and a market in prices that would see poorer students priced out of more prestigious universities and other students and universities consigned to the ‘bargain basement’,” said National Union of Student president Wes Streeting.

“This would be a disaster for UK higher education and must not be allowed to happen.”

Michael Payne, chair of Unions 94, which represents 19 students’ unions, commented: “The review of student fees cannot become another cosy backroom deal between universities and politicians.

“Students are really suffering in the current economic climate and this review needs to tackle the problems caused for students by the disastrous bursaries system that is currently in place.”

The review will not be published until after the general election, and the Liberal Democrats have accused the government of trying to hide the desire for a raise in the fees until after the poll.

“This review is nothing but a conspiracy between Labour and the Tories designed to keep plans to hike up tuition fees off the agenda until after the general election,” Liberal Democrat universities spokesman Stephen Williams.

“Mandelson has shown he will do whatever it takes to shut out any debate on the future of tuition fees, either in parliament or the country.”

Former BP chief executive Lord Browne will lead the review.

“The review comes at an important time and our task is a serious one: to make recommendations to secure the vitality of higher education in this country while ensuring that finance does not become a barrier to those who have the ability and motivation for further study,” he said.

Sir Michael Barber, Diane Coyle, David Eastwood, Julia King, Rajay Naik and Peter Sandswill also sit on the review.