Russell Group: ‘We want to set our own fees’

The debate over potential rises in tuition fees in British universities shows no signs of abating after the Russell Group appealed last month to the Browne review for institutions to be allowed to set their own fees.

The group, which represents 20 elite research institutions including the University of Warwick, was reported as saying in its appeal that this would be the “only viable and fair way to secure the future of the UK’s world-class higher education system”. They acknowledge that it would have to be matched by an increase in grants and bursaries and more information about courses would be provided to potential students.

Cambridge University, in its own separate submission to the review into the future of higher education funding, stated that the shortfall between the cost of teaching an undergraduate and the amount the university receives amounts to around £9,000 per student. It argues that its standing in the academic world cannot be maintained without further income.

The comments drew an immediate backlash from prominent organisations. Aaron Porter, President-Elect of the National Union of Students, argued that such a change would leave students with “mortgage-style debts” while the University and College Union said it would be “the most regressive piece of education policy since the second world war” and suggested that business be made to make more of a contribution.

Those connected with the group nonetheless came out in defence of the demands. Director-General Wendy Piatt said: “Graduate contributions should be increased to better reflect the considerable private benefits which graduates gain from higher education. Evidence shows that when people are asked to contribute even a nominal amount towards the cost of a service, they tend to value that service more highly.”

University of Warwick spokesman Peter Dunn noted that the institution would be waiting for the results of the Browne report before making official comment on any fee rises. He did however note that it was “clear to everyone that universities need more funding and support”, due to the “significant cuts” proposed: “Universities will have to consider looking at the student contribution to funding.”

Responding to concerns about the effect fee rises could have on access to university to poorer students, Mr Dunn also said: “The University already sets aside over a quarter of its student fee income specifically to help those less well-off students and will aside a portion of any new fee income for such bursary support.”

“I note that Richard Lambert’s comments also call on universities to support those poorer students,” he added, making reference to the Warwick Chancellor’s comments last year in support of fee rises.

Last week, the Universities Minister David Willetts told the Guardian that university fees were a “burden on the taxpayer that had to be tackled”, giving the strongest indication yet of government backing for an increase in tuition fees.

As the Boar reported earlier this term, a complete removal of the funding cap could see fees soar to £7,000 for arts and humanities subjects and up to £14,000 for sciences and engineering.


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