Raise tuition fees, say universities

By Tobias Benedetto

Leading universities want the cap on tuition fees to be lifted amid fears that higher education budgets may be slashed this summer.

The Russell Group of the 20 top colleges in the country has advised the government to lift the annual limit of £3,225 and is also suggesting raising interest rates on student loans for wealthy undergraduates to fund bursaries for poorer students.

The £3,225 annual limit on fees could be abolished if the government follows unprecedented advice from the group.

The group said the government should not “shy away” from addressing the “urgent problem” of the under-funding of universities.

The recommendations were made in a submission to Lord Browne’s independent review of student finance. In its separate submission, Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, also backed an increase in fees, suggesting an “increase over time”.

But student groups say a generation could be priced out of higher education and the average student debt of £20,000 could be doubled.

Aaron Porter, the president-elect of the National Union of Students, said: “The removal of the cap on fees would fully expose students and their families to the huge risks and potential calamities of the market, abandoning them to sink or swim.

“The Russell Group’s proposals would lead to many students leaving university with mortgage-style debts of more than £40,000 when times are already very tough for graduates and young people.”

Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said raising tuition fees would be “the most regressive piece of education policy since the war” and put university “out of reach for the majority”.

Russell Group director-general Wendy Piatt said the existing cap on fees should be lifted in stages.

“The most effective and efficient way of protecting the quality of UK higher education would be to allow institutions to exercise discretion over the level of graduate contributions they require, but any move to a fully differentiated market through removing the cap on fees should be incremental,” she said.

The news comes as it emerged that universities fear millions of extra cuts could be announced this summer.

They are already planning for reductions in budget over the next year.

Paul Curran, vice-chancellor of Bournemouth University, said he suspected “reductions in funding are going to come sooner rather than later,” although he added that universities had been planning for the worst for about two years and were not “sitting around waiting for the axe to fall”.