/ Money

Are £9,000 uni fees fair on students?

Graduation ceremony

It’s a black day for students as the government confirms that universities can triple annual charges from 2012. Will this put young people off higher education or just force them into more debt?

So, after weeks of speculative headlines, the truth emerges. Student fees are rising. A lot.

The current cap on academic fees is £3,290. From 2012, most institutions will be set at a new threshold of £6,000 a year. In some ‘exceptional cases’, universities can charge more than this – up to a ceiling of £9,000.

But just how exceptional does an ‘exceptional case’ have to be? The government says that in order to charge more than £6,000, institutions ‘will have to show how they will spend some of the additional income making progress in widening participation and fair access’.

That’s all well and good, but what about the students’ return on their enormous investment? I’ve been talking to recent graduates who work here at Which? to find out what they think of the changes.

Making degrees value for money

Rachel Easter has a definite view on what this kind of money should buy. ‘I’d want a full schedule of classes from the best teachers out there, top quality and personal feedback on my progress, a high degree of focus on employability in my degree and a guarantee that I would get at least a 2:1,’ she says.

Matthew England agrees that the changes will put much more pressure on school leavers to consider value for money when making decisions about their courses. ‘I’m from a middle class background and knew my parents could support me, so I picked a subject that interested me,’ he says. ‘While I did consider my eventual employability, the thought of comparing the ‘value for money’ of different courses didn’t really come into the equation’

Students from lower-income backgrounds

But what of the students who come from lower-income families, like Grace Duffy? She graduated from LSE in 2006 and had her tuition fees paid for her, though she had to take out £15,000 in loans to cover the cost of living in London.

‘If I had to repay an additional £27,000 – taking my student debt to £42,000 – I may have reconsidered going to university or settled for a less prestigious institution that charged lower fees,’ explains Grace. ‘It would be tragic if the destination of students leaving school was determined not by their grades but by their financial situation. For many students from lower income families, taking on a debt of over £40,000 would be inconceivable.’

Drew Ritchie, who grew up in Glasgow, and had his higher education paid for by the Scottish Government, agrees, suggesting that the rises will create a two-tier system. ‘Those from the poorest households will be excluded from a high quality education and forced to settle for under-funded, poor quality alternatives,’ he argues. ‘They will then come out the other side less likely to find a job, yet still in debt.’

What’s the bigger picture?

So, are there any positives to be taken from today’s announcement? ‘I do think there’s a problem of too many students going to university just because it’s ‘the done thing’ at that age. This will make school leavers less inclined to automatically choose to study further,’ says Matthew. ‘Saying that, this isn’t necessarily a good thing as it makes a degree more and more of a commodity, when in reality going to uni is about much more than this.’

What’s been your reaction to this news? Will higher fees really change the shape of our education system or should students just shoulder the debt and get on with it?


I am in doubt that how this Govt will produce new talent and high skilled student. Instead of help, Govt gives more financial burden and stress. Many parents are in such a stress that they do not know,how they can help to their son or daughter in this bad financial situation.. Govt. is playing very cruel game with our citizen.What a shame !.. Govt is creating more students putting off university.In future , Govt has to rely on immigrant people to fill the skilled vacancy. is their any guarantee for job prospect after graduation? How they can pay back their loan ? It is clear that our Govt is only helping rich people because they can afford this burden.It is a black day for our future generation.Never ever trust politicians, they take our vote and change their election promise.

Personally I think there should be no cap – universities are businesses but to a large degree are funded by you and I – the taxpayer. With the recent CSR cuts universities are going to have to find more ways of filling the shortfall in their funding and charging high fees is just one of several feasible options.

However, many universities forget to treat students as paying customers who are adults and one of the Which? graduates is spot on when she refers to what level of service customers should expect to get in return for high fees. The level of teaching and the facilities should be of the highest standards.

It’s only fair that the best universities do continue to attract the brightest (not necessarily richest) students and this inevitably means the best universities will charge the highest fees. If some can afford to pay for it (so long as they meet the academic criteria) who are we to stop them paying as their fees should help towards subsidising those those who are academically gifted and talented, but lack the financial resources, through bursaries and scholarship schemes.

I think the glory days of going to university for the ‘experience’ are well and truly on their way out. How many of us at work attend training courses for ‘the experience’? Students will need to be more focused on what they hope to achieve through attaining a degree in their chosen subject.

In the meantime the government should focus more on quality, not quantity, of graduates and if this means some ‘universities’ closing because of poor standards then so be it. I think in future we’ll definitely see more mergers of universities and more focus on part-time studies and more degree-standard vocational qualifications (though I wish they’d drop the term ‘vocational’ and just refer to them simply as ‘qualifications’) as this could be a prime source of revenue for many HE institutions. For the thousands going back to uni to re-train having been made redundant, getting a student loan to pay for their studies at inflation-related interest rates is far more attractive than one charged at commercial rates.

Sophie Gilbert says:
4 November 2010

Free and universal primary and secondary education must be and is provided by the state. This is what is essential and must be preserved at all cost, and fought for in some countries. Tertiary education is a luxury, however undoubtedly useful.

What none of yesterdays commentators really discussed was the potential effect of this increase in fees on student numbers in 2011. Many will apply for courses next year because in 2012 fees will double or treble. I pity the poor person who cant get into uni next year and finds that the costs of going in 2012 has increased remarkably.

Retailers wouldnt double or treble prices overnight – there would be an outcry. Equally here, the fees should rise over a 2/3 period to the proposed level so everyone can take the necessary financial steps to prepare themselves.

Fat Sam, Glos says:
4 November 2010

I think there’s a misconception that high fees will put students off but there is a massive amount of financial support available to those most in need of financial assistance that doesn’t need to be paid back.

But potential students need to do their bit, not squandering their loans on supporting expensive lifestyles. This should be funded personally by finding work during the holidays, working during a ‘gap’ year or, what is likely to happen, asking the Bank of Mum and Dad.

But university isn’t for everybody. They should be seen as long-term training courses with the aim of improving ones chances of finding employment, either to benefit others (either directly or indirectly through taxation) or, as is the case for the vast majority, themselves. The taxpayer should certainly not be asked to subsidise someone’s hobby or interest.

I’d also like to know specifically which points people actually disagreed with in my comment above – or do people just like clicking on the thumbs down button for no apparent reason and can’t think of a valid argument?

When I went through university as someone from a middle class family, I had to take a loan to pay my fees. Some of my friends from lower class families got part of their university fee’s subsidised and while they still took loans they borrowed far less than my substantial loan. When we graduated, we had the same degree, we went into the same profession and started on the same salary. So why do I owe more for my degree than them? How is that fair?

Well, with thousands of students and lecturers demonstrating in London against these plans, the question is even more pertinent. Are these university fees fair? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11726822

Emmiesmad, you make a very fair and valid point. I think the point I’m making is that the means testing aspect of providing non-repayable support needs to be much fairer with the residual household income thresholds that determine the amount of non-repayable support raised. That means that those who can afford it, pay up, and those that can’t, don’t need to.

Mass protest over tuition fees shows that students and parents are severely hurt by broken promises by political party.Wages are very smaller now a days as most of the money goes in fuel,food,energy,council tax etc. Learn from European countries,they encourage students to learn more and more and brings more talent for their country.
This unaffordable fee rise is not for encouragement but it is discouragement. This fee rise is the highest in the world. Fee should be affordable so every community can learn more skill. This fee rise will derail our best education system.
Help our future generation. Students are more hurt by false or broken promises.
Political party is so desperate to get yes vote from different party.
If they show last minute concession, that means, they do not know what they are doing, This highest fee will divide all parties and will make more damage to our education system.
Treat our student with high dignity.They are our best prospectus and bright future of our country.