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Universities set to increase fees above £9,000 per year

Tom Allingham
22 July 2016

Jo Johnson 2
Jo Johnson has announced plans to allow universities
to increase fees once again

Universities in England are set to be given permission to increase fees above the current £9,000 per year limit.

The change, announced yesterday by Universities Minister Jo Johnson, will see fees rise in line with forecasted inflation. For the academic year 2017/18, this 2.8% increase would allow universities to charge up to £9,250 per year, with the figure potentially rising above £10,000 in the coming years.

Unlike the trebling of fees from £3,000 to £9,000 per year in 2012, this hike could also affect students who have already started courses at university, although this depends on the student contracts of individual institutions.

In order to raise their fees above the current threshold, universities must score highly on the new "teaching excellence framework". Government ministers say this new measure is designed to encourage a higher quality of teaching, and universities who score poorly will be forced to cap their fees at £6,000 per year.

Not a done deal

Despite the formal announcement taking place yesterday, a number of universities appeared to pre-empt the decision earlier in the week by listing increased fees on their websites.

A whole day before Mr Johnson's formal announcement, annual tuition fees of £9,250 were being advertised by several institutions, despite accusations that they had not gained permission to do so.

Universities are now faced with the dilemma of either advertising £9,000 fees until the changes are formalised by Parliament, or breaching consumer protection requirements by failing to announce fees of £9,250 before the next application cycle begins in September.

Following the publication of the statement, the Liberal Democrats said that they would force a vote by MPs in the autumn in an attempt to stop the bill becoming law, with Labour also coming out in opposition to the proposals.

Gordon Marsden, the Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Further Education and Skills, said the increase would "add even further to the burden" of debt faced by students, also labelling the move a "disgraceful" and "cynical" attempt to "sneak out" the change on the last day of Parliament before summer.

"Unfair" or "essential"?

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, an educational charity that aims to improve educational opportunities for those from non-privileged backgrounds, expressed mixed feelings at the announcement.

While welcoming the "moves to improve teaching quality", Sir Lampl said he believes "it is unfair that fees will rise with inflation but the level at which graduates start to repay their loans remains frozen at £21,000."

He also made reference to the recent removal of maintenance grants, which he said "will almost certainly deter poorer students, who now face debts of over £50,000 on graduation."

Amidst the furore, there has been some support for the proposals. Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said that the freezing of fees since 2012/13 has meant that the real value of £9,000 was now just £8,200 per year. She stated that "this inflation catch-up is essential to allow universities to continue to deliver a high-quality learning experience for students."