In a new proposal commissioned by Prime Minister Theresa May, tuition fees may be cut to £6,500 as part of forthcoming higher education reforms, which has led to heated debate across the higher education sector.
Fees may be cut from a current headline rate of £9,250 to between £6,500 and £7,500 a year. The Treasury will compensate for the shortfall, which could amount to £3 billion annually.
Different subjects may be charged varying fees. Subjects deemed “more expensive” – such as medicine, maths, or engineering, which require more equipment and teaching hours, and allegedly promise higher future earnings – may incur a cost of £13,000 or more.
The review, headed by Philip Augar, comes amidst increased competition for students through clearing and a demographic drop in 18-year-olds. It will be presented to the Department for Education (DfE) in January.
A DfE spokesman said: “People are rightly concerned about value for money, that’s why we’re reforming the system to make it fairer.
“We have already increased the repayment threshold for graduates and are open-minded in our approach,” they added.
The review has since accumulated criticism from university vice-chancellors, politicians, and leading figures in the higher education sector.
For the Treasury to cover the shortfall, some worry that a cap on student numbers, cuts in university income and subsequent bankruptcy and shutdowns of struggling institutions is imminent.
Others have said that the distribution of fee levels to target “more expensive” degrees may starve arts and humanities subjects of funding, and degrade their reputation.
The “socially regressive” system may deter poorer students from medicine and science subjects, in favour of “cheaper” courses, thus damaging social mobility.
If the review succeeds, European Union (EU) may have to pay more than the current average amount of £12,000. At the moment, EU students pay the same fees as UK students.
Reducing funding for teaching would impact directly on the student experience
– Tim Bradshaw
Critics explain that the move by Theresa May is an attempt to attract young people to vote. Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner said: “We need radical change in our education system, not tinkering around the edges.
“The next Labour Government will deliver our fully-costed plan to scrap tuition fees in universities and further education colleges as well as restoring maintenance grants and the EMA to make our system of student finance fair and sustainable.”
Russell Group Chief Executive Tim Bradshaw commented: “Reducing funding for teaching would impact directly on the student experience, leading to higher student-to-staff ratios, less hands-on lab and practical work and student services stretched past breaking point.
“If these reports are correct, students, parents and universities will need a cast-iron guarantee from government that it will introduce teaching grants to fully cover the shortfall and meet future demand. Those grants would need to be on a per student basis.”
In an interview with The Boar, vice-chancellor Stuart Croft said on the issue: “That would have a massive financial implication for universities. For universities that are very heavily dependent financially on undergraduate British and European students, it could have a catastrophic impact.
“As a university, we’re in a very different place, only half of our income comes from all student fees, and that which would be affected would be much smaller, so we are not facing any kind of existential threat, but of course, it would mean we would have to reschedule quite a lot of our plans were we to be in that kind of position.”