‘Exception’ becomes the rule as three in four charge £9K fees (UK)

By John Morgan

Post-92s among high risers as coalition hopes for ‘competitive pressure’ fade. John Morgan reports. About three-quarters of English universities will charge £9,000 for at least some courses next year, with several new universities increasing their average fees by about 10 per cent. Ninety-four higher education institutions out of 122 that want to charge undergraduates more than £6,000 will set their maximum annual tuition fee at the £9,000 ceiling in 2013-14, according to Office for Fair Access data published on 26 July. The average annual tuition fee for home and European Union students across those 122 institutions will rise to £8,615, up from £8,527 in 2012-13. Once fee waivers are taken into account, the average has increased to £8,363 from £8,259. Although the rises are below the rate of inflation, the direction of travel will be a blow to ministers, who have repeatedly claimed that the new fees regime would put institutions under  “competitive pressure” to offer courses at lower cost. There are steep rises in the 2013-14 average  fee after waivers at several new universities, including the University of Bedfordshire (whose vice-chancellor Les Ebdon is stepping down this summer to become the next director of Offa) and the University of Chester.

Both rose by 10.9 per cent.Liverpool Hope University, Sheffield Hallam University and York St John University are among those to move up to a £9,000 headline fee for undergraduate courses.However, average post-waiver fees at more than 30 institutions have fallen, including York St John. In the Russell Group of large research-intensive universities, 19 out of 20 members were already charging headline fees of £9,000 in 2012-13 and have maintained them for 2013-14. The London School of Economics is the only exception, with fees of £8,500 in both years. The government said in 2010 that universities would charge £9,000 fees only in “exceptional  circumstances”. However, many observers predicted that the maximum would soon become the going rate.A sector-wide increase in fees was forecast for 2013-14 after the coalition responded to criticism from universities outside the Russell Group by softening its “margin” system. For 2012-13, this deducted 20,000 places from the sector as a whole and reallocated them to universities and further education colleges charging fees of £7,500 or less. There will be a reduced pool of 5,000 margin places to be redistributed in 2013-14, mainly to institutions with average fees of £7,500 or less. A “sizeable minority” will go to those charging between £7,500 and £8,250.

Offa nod for all 122 access plans

All English universities and colleges offering undergraduate degree courses must have an access agreement approved by Offa in order to obtain permission to charge fees above the basic level of £6,000. Offa says in a statement published on 26 July that it has approved the 2013-14 access agreements for all 122 higher education institutions that had applied, as well as 28 further education colleges. It says it negotiated with 48 institutions before reaching agreement. “These negotiations resulted in changes in the balance of expenditure, strengthened targets and additional investment of around £8.2 million,” an Offa spokesman said. Under 2013-14 agreements, universities and colleges will spend £671.8 million a year on access measures by the academic year 2016-17 (up from £635.6 million in 2015-16). This equates to 26.7 per cent of the per-student annual fee income above £6,000 they expect to receive, compared with 27.3 per cent in 2015-16. Institutions will spend £58 million on financial support where students have a choice between bursaries and fee waivers – up from £24.7 million in 2015-16. The amount spent on fee waivers, which the National Union of Students has claimed will benefit the Treasury rather than students, will fall from £260.6 million to £241 million in 2016-17. Sir Martin Harris, Offa’s director (who is standing down at the end of August), said the change “may, in part, be the result of greater student influence in the development of access agreements”.