Government in tuition fee compromise

City A.M. Reporter
TUITION fees will be capped at £6,000 for most universities, after the coalition government watered down a series of independent recommendations.

Universities minister David Willets unveiled plans to raise the “basic threshold” for fees to £6,000, rising to up to £9,000 for a small number of institutions in “exceptional circumstances”.

Institutions will only be able to charge more than £6,000 if they can prove they are meeting tough targets that require them to boost access for students from deprived backgrounds.

The final plans represent a messy coalition compromise, after Liberal Democrat ministers – who campaigned against any hike in fees before the election – insisted on imposing a cap.

Lord Browne, the former chief executive of BP, had recommended that institutions should be able to charge as much as they wished, helping to introduce a free market in higher education.

However, a tapered levy on universities charging over £6,000 would have likely stopped most universities charging more than £12,000 a year.

But under the current plans, the majority of students will see a near 100 per cent rise in the cost of university tuition, without any of the benefits that variable pricing and a market would have brought. Currently, tuition fees are capped at £3,290.

However, the compromise – described as a “dog’s dinner” by one Tory backbencher – are unlikely to quell a small but politically significant backbench rebellion among Liberal Democrat MPs.

Former party leader Charles Kennedy spoke out against the plans yesterday, although deputy party leader Simon Hughes – who has previously voiced his opposition – was keeping his counsel.

Higher fees will move the cost of funding degrees from the government to the student, at a time when the coalition is cutting spending on universities by 40 per cent.

Willets said the earnings threshold for repaying student debt would rise to £21,000, with graduates expected to contribute nine per cent of their income above this level.