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Where do you stand on £9,000 student fees?

Students protesting against tuition fee rise on December 9th

With university tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year set to hit students’ pockets from 2012, we take a closer look at the plans and ask you whether the new fees are needed, and perhaps more importantly, fair.

After months of angry controversy which, in central London, bled into full-blown rioting, it seems the government has narrowly won the argument. From 2012, universities will be allowed to charge as much as £9,000 a year for tuition.

Last Thursday’s vote on the reform of higher education was a slim victory for the coalition, with a number of Liberal Democrats and even some Conservative MPs voting against the plans. And today, the House of Lords will debate the measure – with Labour peers determined to try and block it.

But was this a hollow victory for the government, too? Have they alienated the majority of voters, or successfully carried the general public with them – student protesters aside – on this crucial issue? Before you have your say, let’s take a closer look at the new system of funding for higher education…

A quick look at the new student loans

Young people will be able to borrow the full amount they need for university fees – which could amount to tens of thousands of pounds for long courses such as medicine or architecture.

The salary threshold from which loans will have to be paid back will rise from £15,000 to £21,000 a year, with 9% of a graduate’s earnings above this level payable to the Student Loans Company. This repayment threshold will increase annually, in line with inflation.

However, the interest rate to be charged on student loans will increase for some graduates. The rate for those with lower incomes will be 0%, but it’ll increase on a sliding scale according to what young people earn – with those commanding salaries above £41,000 paying a maximum rate of 3% above inflation.

Support for poorer students

When the ‘cap’ on tuition fees is lifted from £3,290 to £9,000 in 2012, universities will be able to almost triple the sums they charge students annually.

Any institution wishing to charge more than £6,000 a year, however, will need to commit to “access agreements” that are to be negotiated with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). These arrangements would commit the university to helping people from poorer backgrounds – though the National Union of Students is sceptical about whether they’d work.

Maintenance grants for students from households earning less than £25,000 will be increased from £2,906 to £3,250. The current system of means-tested loans for living expenses will remain in place, with students from less well-off backgrounds offered larger sums.

Meanwhile, pupils who have qualified for free school meals may be eligible to have up to two years’ worth of tuition fees paid for them under plans being considered by the government.

Where do you stand?

When Hannah Jolliffe first wrote about this issue on Which? Conversation, commenter Jem pointed out: ‘What no-one has really discussed is 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 think this is a very important point and one that I haven’t seen addressed by any government spokesperson so far.

Meanwhile, Shire of the Rose commented: ‘I am in doubt about how this government will produce new talent and highly skilled students. Instead of help, the government is giving more financial burden and stress.’

Fat Sam took a different view, suggesting that some universities should even be allowed to charge more than £9,000 a year:

‘I think there should be no cap. Universities are businesses, but to a large degree are funded by you and I – the taxpayer. However, many universities forget to treat students as paying customers who are adults.’

Personally, I have grave concerns about the impact of these reforms on students from working class backgrounds like mine. Would I have gone to university if I had known I’d face a £40,000 debt at the end of my course? I’d like to think I would have had faith in myself, and in the value of my degree – but I can’t be sure.

I worry that the sky-high fees our very best universities will charge won’t be offset by robust, effective measures to prevent the exclusion of young people from poorer families. And I fear that, if this is the case, we won’t realise it until we have already deprived many talented pupils of the education they richly deserve.

But what do you think? Are these reforms the only way to keep our universities internationally competitive, or are you anxious about their effects?


We’ve got ourselves in a mess by over-compensating for the old grossly unfair system that I knew in my youth. Then we all knew our place. No matter how academically capable I and others from my background were, we would never go to university. It was for the rich; we all knew that.

It was a great social change when university places were offered on the basis of academic ability not wealth. However, the key word is ability. I believe, with the best of intentions, we have gone too far in the opposite direction. We now have a system where virtually anyone who wants to go to university expects to do so.

I once managed a large team and spent a great deal of time on recruitment. There are many highly motivated, talented, and dedicated young people out there. There are also some who have an unrealistic attitude to the work place. I found there was little connection between suitable candidates and their educational achievements. Some with degrees (often media studies or psychology and the like) were unemployable. Ask them to answer a question in three parts and they would answer the first and ignore the rest. Follow written instructions – no chance!

Let’s keep the term ‘university’ for serious academic study undertaken by those with exceptional academic ability. Vocational or personal interest courses should be called something else.

What has this to do with funding? University education should be free – an extension to the education system for those from any background who achieve outstanding academic results.

Other courses should be career related with contributions from students, the industries who benefit, or sponsored by employers. I sponsored suitable employees to undertake professional training with a contractual tie-in to work for the company for a set period after qualification. If they decided to leave during that period, they paid back the full cost of the course. If they stayed, the company and other members of the team gained from their new skills.

Mrs Sensible says:
16 December 2010

Regarding your final paragraph, my daughter studied to become an accountant, in her own time, but with the course fees paid by her employer. She has to stay with them for 5 years, or repay the fees. This seems eminently fair. She also has a degree for which she is still repaying her student loan. We, her parents, are both accountants, which qualifications we also gained by studying in our spare time whilst working as trainee accountants. We learnt a lot more about the job than we would have done studying it as a subject at university, but not doing the job for real until years later. This sort of occupational subject (as opposed to Classics, History, and such-like), should be studied like this from 18; a degree is not necessary.

What has happened to the Higher National Certificate which one got by day release and evening classes, not as posh as a degree but practical experience whilst working the other 4 days was invaluable and did not cost a fortune. The firms that used this form of training knew the quality and knowledge of the people they had taken through the HNC route, and that they would be an immeditely a valuable resource. 3 years in a university does not train you in any practical way and employers have no idea of your likley value, especially with the number of different courses that are offered. Fewer people at University might be better for the country if the day release route was adopted. Also why was it 20 years ago when we were all so much poorer could my son go through university with no course fees and a grant towards his living expences, at that was at Oxford, yet now students get no grant and have to £6000?

Mrs Sensible says:
16 December 2010

Agree. See my previous reply.

I so agree with Jonas, Mrs Sensible and Beehive 03. Forty five years ago I would have loved the sheer joy of applied study at university, but I had to get out and get on. A university education is not a right and has to be paid for by someone. If a person wishes to go then that person should expect to pay for the priviledge and the eventual advantage they would expect to gain from the degree. I studied for my professional qualifications in the evenings, holidays and day release. I paid the costs myself with some small help from my employer and we both benefitted from the investment. The lack of a degree never impacted in any way on my ability to cope with any demands made of me by my chosen career and, of course, during the time when I was gaining both experience and relevant qualifications I was saving into my pension fund at the most advantageous age. Sadly, though, a degree now seems to be the same job entry level requirement that 5 good O levels were in my time and this needs to change.

So, would be university students want me and other tax payers to pay for their degree, a degree that shall set them up for life, providing the graduate with a good status in society and a good living! Can`t have your cake and eat it too

Claudio says:
20 December 2010

So, would be people who use NHS services want me and other tax payers to pay for their treatments?!

yes, narrow view if you can’t see the benefits of an educated population.. i want my NHS to be full of highly qualified doctors and nurses, my children taught by well – educated teachers. I dont want the nation only educating the select few who can afford a university education.

C Murray says:
18 December 2010

Increase is ridiculous . . .

Annie Pollock says:
18 December 2010

I have always felt that all education should be free. We, the working population, should pay sufficient tax to fund the young of our country. I am an architect and the amount of debt that a student would build up over this long course, might never be paid off – architects are affected by all economic downturns in the economy and rarely ever command high earnings that other professions might expect. We need a new approach. There should be academies where the trades are taught, so that these are respected at the same level as university degrees. Perhaps overall standards should be higher to get in and Scotland might need to consider 3 year degrees. The current differences emerging between Scotland and the rest of the UK are so divisive and damaging. If I were a student now, I would be protesting too.

Terry says:
20 December 2010

This country needs well educated people. If you think education is expensive try ignorance! Therefore the cost should to be paid for by the country, ie in taxation and not in tuition fees by individual students. A system has to be developed to pay for this. If it is considered that graduates are going to benefit financially from higher education then one way would be to increase the level of income tax paid by high earners. Those high earners who did not go to to university should consider themselves lucky that they are in such a priveliged financial position and should not begrudge the extra taxation.

sue_marie says:
20 December 2010

Why do we charge our students thousands of pounds to study when we seem to give young people from oversees a free education? I personally know two students from Hong Kong who came here, studied and successfully applied for student loans. When their courses finished they returned to HK with no intention of ever repaying a penny. If their example is anything to go by, there must be millions of pounds wasted each year in giving money to overseas students who find a way to get round the residency issues for a loan. The student loans company has no resources to track overseas students who are no longer in the UK. Incidentally, the Child Support Agency behaves in the same way – it lets non-paying dads get away with it if they leave the UK but comes down hard on those who stay here.

I went to a college of education over forty years ago at a time when only a fairly small proportion of eighteen year olds went on to university.My parent paid a small amount towards my three year course and i still received a means tested grant.Todays problems are caused by the Labour governments insistence on telling one in four young people they must have a university education a ploy to keep them temporarily off the unemployment stats maybe?The title student still suggests a part time worker,bearing in mind the length of their working day,holidays and term lengths.This hasn’t changed since i was a student.When i wasn’t a student i was well able to earn a fair amount of money to help me along in term time.The most relevent point in this whole debate is that due to the huge number of students someone has to pay.Why should a hard working non university tax payer have to subsidize students?If student terms were longer ,lectures filled days and other waste cut out courses could be completed in less time. University education would be then be more affordable.Otherwise if the taxpayer still has to pay ,cut the number of students and bring back training whilst working.Some of this sounds quite radical but a university education should not be regarded as a right or an opportunity to have a fairly easy life for three years at the tax players expense.

I am opposed to tuition fees completely. A well educated population is of benefit to the whole of society and, if a graduate earns more, he or she will pay more tax. Tuition fees are a big discouragement particularly to the poor and prudent who have recently seen the risks of over borrowing first hand. I graduated with a good degree but I never would have even considered university given the current system. My son, who is very academic, is terrified at the prospect and we have no spare money to make his life easier.

England was near the bottom in the world for higher education “affordability” a few years ago. We must be right at the bottom now. Countries like Papua New Guinea, Botswana and Zimbabwe all spend a greater percentage of GDP than we do on education.

I also hate reading comments about “not subsidising students” when it will be them subsidising you when you retire. Who do you think pays for your state pension and the NHS? If we are ever going to achieve a more equitable society we must encourage education, not the opposite.