Nearly 75% of universities who have declared their fees for 2012 have opted to charge the maximum £9,000.
The government had previously indicated that £6,000 would be the effective benchmark, and that universities would be allowed to charge £9,000 only in “exceptional circumstances”. As recently as March 2011, Nick Clegg stated that universities “can’t charge £9,000 unless they’re given permission to do so” However, the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), tasked with scrutinising universities over their fees regimes and expected by some to intervene to stop some institutions from charging the maximum figure, has said it does not expect to exercise its power to prevent universities from charging over £6,000 without a detailed plan to increase intake of poorer students.
There is no correlation between established performance indicators and fee levels, with both the University of Cambridge and the University of East London (from opposite “ends” of the spectrum in terms of government-approved measures for measuring university performance) charging £9,000 across the board. Some universities, such as London Metropolitan, will charge varying fees for different courses, ranging between £4,500 and £9,000.
In a further kick in the teeth for students, newly-elected NUS president Liam Burns — expected by some to make a break from the approach of his predecessor, Aaron Porter, which was widely viewed as capitulatory and spineless — has already declared that “the debate on how to fund education is sadly largely irrelevant.”
A big cut in government funding for universities means that, as well as massively increasing fees, many institutions will be making extremely deep cuts. Figures released by the Higher Education Funding Council for England in late March show that some universities face reductions of up to around 15% in their recurrent government grants. Some, like the University of London (the umbrella institution administering many of London’s smaller and specialist higher education colleges), face a cut of over 60%. The cuts in grants disproportionately affect poorer universities — Cambridge faces cuts of just 0.8%, while Oxford and LSE will actually see an increase of 0.8 and 1.4% respectively.
Funding cuts are already translating into plans to do away with courses, modules or indeed entire departments at many universities. University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC) provoked anger from students and Welsh Assembly members as it announced plans to abolish its modern history and politics programme as its Vice Chancellor pocketed a wage increase of over 7%.
The University of Glasgow plans to axe several modern language course, merge its history, archaeology and classics courses, and scrap its Centre of Drugs Misuse Research.