Russell Group institutions are currently lobbying behind the scenes in an attempt to force modern universities to decrease their tuition fees and bear the brunt of any government cuts.
The future of university fees has been a hot topic for many politicians this month, with many reports suggesting that the government are currently debating what route to take regarding tuition rates.
This month, Theresa May promised a major review of university fees during her speech at the Conservative party conference. When speaking to the Telegraph before the conference, the Prime Minister pledged to overhaul the tuition fees system and also announced a freeze on tuition fees at £9,250 a year.
No further explanations have been given on the topic however, leading many academics to question the future price for tuition.
The recent university protests have also come to light after a media frenzy following the publication of the salaries vice-chancellor’s receive.
The publication was spurred on by former Labour education minister Lord Adonis, who recently visited Warwick University. Lord Adonis called for an inquiry into the salary increases awarded to Glynis Breakwell, the vice-chancellor of the University of Bath, whose pay rose to £451,000.
For many Russell Group universities, these protests are also a chance to raise arguments in favour of having modern universities bear the cost of future government cuts.
According to the latest institutional data from the Office For Fair Access, Lincoln University has £800 more to spend on teaching per student than Oxford. In 2018-19 it is predicted that Lincoln will have £8,732 left from each tuition fee after paying for these “access measures”, whereas Oxford will have an average of just £7,915.
When speaking to the Guardian about the data, one Russell Group vice-chancellor commented: “At my university with fees at £9,250 we just break even for home students. But some vice-chancellors have admitted to me that teaching a student only costs them £5,000. At Oxford that is probably closer to £15,000. So you can’t generalise and say the whole sector should be getting less.”
“Just capping fees at £9,250 is costing us tens of millions over the next five years. I really hope the government is thinking of a way of varying fees, because at the moment the harm is being done to the research-intensives.”
Professor Dominic Shellard, vice-chancellor of De Montfort University, reacted angrily to this suggestion. He told the Guardian: “The idea that modern universities are sitting on mountains of cash is a fallacy.”
“Fifty per cent of the sector’s unrestricted reserves are in the hands of just 14 institutions and 13 of them are in the Russell Group.”
Jo Johnson, the universities minister told the Guardian that universities should show restraint and should: “Set pay in a way that reflects the fact they are often in receipt of significant public money.”
Final-year mathematics student, Ben Chong, commented: “It makes sense that people who attend Russell Group universities will end up earning more, therefore being more able to pay it back.”
Final year History, Literature and the Cultures of the Americas student, Jack Williams, also called the current conflicts: “Elitism at its finest.”