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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?


I think the fees are wrong and unfair. All tertiary education should be free. I thought the same when Labour introduced them at a far more affordable level. The overall gainer is the country if all people capable of gaining a degree – get one. Otherwise we will be back to the old Tory trick of keeping the poor and vulnerable down. Just wait until all the cuts start to bite – disaster!!

I’m so glad I lived and worked in a welfare state – so unlike this new “rich take it all” society we live in now.

Mrs Sensible says:
14 December 2010

Tuition fees are unavoidable owing to the deficit, and anyway the right thing to do. They will discourage youngsters from wasting 3 years on taking a rubbish degree which won’t enhance their employment prospects anyway, and encourage them to take a job from 18 and start earning and learning in the real world. When university fees were free, only a small percentage of people went to university, so it was affordable for the taxpayer. Now too many unsuitable people have been encouraged by the previous government to go to uni probably to keep them off the unemployment register! There should be a much higher provision of college places for the non-academic to learn a practical trade; and this should be free, helped by subsidies from employers.

consumer- not says:
15 December 2010

can you define who is an “unsuitable person”

Mrs Sensible says:
16 December 2010

‘By ‘unsuitable’ I mean someone non-academic who has been persuaded to go to uni, but who won’t really benefit from it, and will struggle to keep up. (see the numbers of people who drop out from the less-good universities, or doing the ‘easy’ subjects)

DeeDee says:
14 December 2010

Surely the family background of the student is irrelevant to the level of fees, as the fee loan is only repayable once the graduate earns over a certain amount. Thus a high earning person from a poor background is more able to repay the loan than a low earning person from a relatively wealthier background.
Anyway, frequently ‘working class’ families actually have a greater disposable income to help their kids than ‘middle class’ families who decide to spend all their money on their childrens’ education. and have nothing left to save. So who needs help more?
Family background should not count once a person is over 18 (adult). The families could do most to help their children by encouraging learning, reading and going for high achievements; that is why there is a disparity between the ‘classes’

Sorry the family background is highly relevant – If one goes to a private school with the normal expectation of going onto university – then fees are regarded as normal and will be paid or assisted by the family.

If one comes from a low ability “working” (actually on the dole) class family living in a council flat – going to a low end council school where there is no expectation of tertiary education because the exam pass rate is very poor – then one is unlikely to even bother to try. Because these people know their parents will not/can not help. After all £27,000 plus expenses is usually more than the entire families’ income for two or three years.

Only in one sense do I agree – If tertiary education was free – actually free – then family background wouldn’t count. As there is a fee the family background counts.

I went to a private school – so university was the norm. That is just simply not the case for the poor from a poor environment.. I’ve known quite a few.

Rosie says:
14 December 2010

One thing that I don’t think has been discussed enough in this student loans debacle – and something Laura has touched on here – is the interest on student loans.

When I finished university at 21, I moved to London to take a job (related to my degree) on an entry-level salary (18k) and immediately started paying back my loan – £25 a month automatically taken out by PAYE.

After getting a statement from the Student Loans Company, I realsied that the interest on my 12k loan was £52 a month and to be frank, I was appalled. I was sold a student loan as ‘the lowest rate loan you’ll ever have’ – really?

I couldn’t have afforded, on my salary, living in the capital, to pay back any more at that time and regrettably my loan crept up an extra 1k. Even since earning more, I can still only manage to pay back just over the interest of my loan. How can we be expected to produce savings and put money towards a pension?

My point is, how can the government expect someone to start paying off their £27k loan (presuming the fees are £9k a year on a 3 year degree, like mine) on just £21kpa – all they’ll be paying off is the interest (if that) and student loans will be with them until their retirement. The ex-student will be left in more of a sorry state than they are now – unable to get onto the housing market, struggling to climb up the ladder and still living at home until they’re 40.

The fees would seem fairer if interest was not charged to educational loans. I don’t know if sutdents are more intelligent than I was about my loan at 18, but I hope they are, because I sure didn’t know what had hit me until I’d ‘followed my degree dream’ in the city.

People are quick to point the finger at ‘the deficit’ and ‘the banks’ when discussing this issue, but the even without the credit crunch reform of university funding would have been needed.

There’s a fundamental paradox here. For years we’ve encouraged more and more people to attend university, but have done little to improve the funding and quality of the education. Had we continued on the path we were on, our universities would have simply lost their value as education institutions. More students, but not enough money to employ a reasonable number of lecturers, or provide the facilities necessary. Even back in 2005 I sat in history seminars of 19-20 people, larger than the classes I attended at A-Level. This isn’t conducive to good quality education.

I can easily imagine idle under-achievers being put off by these costs, and if these changes make them think more carefully about their future choices then that’s part of the battle won. Frankly, though, I see no reason that the genuinely bright – no matter their background – should be put off by this.

They’ll get a better quality degree – hopefully one that features more one-to-one tuition than exists currently – and the really badly off won’t have to work two jobs just to pay their fees as it’s all dealt with after they leave. Sounds like an environment to encourage bright, hard working students to me.

The only caveat for me is the arts. If the cost of studying art or drama increases significantly, I can see people being put off these pursuits – as degrees at least. Whether the gap can be filled by charities (i.e. more scholarships for best talents), or if the path to these careers simply evolves to less ‘formal’ education, I don’t know, but I’d like the government to look at this more closely.

Finally, many courses should be shorter. If the likes of Media Studies (always an easy target) must continue, they should be two year courses with a year in placement.

Chris says:
14 December 2010

Someone has to pay; market forces working out which courses are useless and which are in demand and improving the supply from Universities has to be better than what we have today. Not everyone can go to university; the choice will be difficult and some will undoubtedly not go but this has got to be better than taxpayer subsidised courses in irrelevant degrees. This puts the power in the hands of students for a change and will force Universities to improve.

Its time to raise the standards of higher education in this country. In my industry, as a teacher, there are a lot of sub standard people coming out with qualifications at the moment, because they have had easy pathways into degrees. English born and bred people who cannot spell basic words correctly, or write sentences with the correct grammar are teaching our children literacy in schools right across London…it is pushing down the respect of our profession. This is because prior to the fee hike anyone could get a degree and anyone could claim to be a professional. I like the comments above, a suitably intelligent person is not going to blink an eye lid at the fee hike, if it means they can get the education they want. Stop dumbing down education and lowering the standards of this country.

Sorry – Thatcher dumbed down Education in London when she disbanded the ILEA – Until then we had some professional status – She was the first PM who blamed Teachers for all the ills of Society – Yet stated “there was no such thing as society”

At least Labour did try.

I have some doubts about any empathy expressed above – nor if there was experience in teaching in the low end of Inner London Schools – I had 30 years .

If you really think that a debt of up to £27,000 plus interest – and the cost of maintenance during that time – will not cause the intelligent poor would be student to blink – You know nothing about actually being poor.

One promise is already broken by political party.
Now,they are talking about £9000 uni fees fair on students.
How parents and students will trust this fees ?
The bridge of trust and faith in government is already broken. It is certain that this married political party is champion of RISING in every sector and factor !………….
Rise in fees,Rise in food prices, Rise in fuel price, Rise in energy bills, Rise in train and bus fare,Rise in council tax, Rise in taxi fare, Rise in elderly care, Rise in VAT etc.. We import Rice from other countries !……but our new government is very proud that they produce new variety Rise without any cultivation !………They rise on ladder and cutback every steps !…….

Peter says:
15 December 2010

I am in full agreement with the increases.

Perhaps, having to make a significant payment towards their costs, only serious students will bother to take university courses and perhaps they will take their studies more seriously and their social activities less seriously.

I’m afraid someone had to pay – nothing is free so it might as well be the people who have gone to University – sorry it is tough out there and I know as my pension increase had been short changed by moving the increase fron RPI to CPI.

Getoverit says:
15 December 2010

Get the education, get a decent job based on that education, and pay back the loan that got you that job. How can anyone argue with that process ?

Malcolm Tunley says:
15 December 2010

If the taxpayer pays for everyone to have a ‘basic education’ anything else is up to the individual to go further than this since it is for their benefit. I did not go to university my two children did not go to university yet we have all managed to earn a living with the education we received therefore I believe that a University education should not be paid for by taxpayers at all.

Pay your own way.

If a person is of a proven academically gifted then let the universities give them the extra education they believe will be of benefit and the student repay the university back from their increased earnings.

I have no issue with the need to raise fees what I do think is wrong is to do it all at once. Irrespective of the deficit issue, The Govt would have got more support if could have reduced its budget allocation over say a three year period and increased fees to compensate for that over the same period. I am concerned that uni’s who do raise their fees excessively wont have planned how best to use that money and may not use it wisely – not using non qualified lecturers (3rd yr/ex students?) giving lectures to 1st years.

The interest issue is a time bomb along with the burden of debt, as many students will not be in a position to buy, let alone rent a place to live outside Uni if the repayment rates are too high and go on for too long once you reach the qualifying level. Equally, they should be able to pay it off early without being penalised – which I believe will be the case; after all the govt is getting its money back early and can earn interest on it. I beleive going bankcrupt has been suggested as a solution

Finally, what right will students have to challenge the quality of teaching and support they receive if they think they are being ripped off? I appreciate that the fee level currently paid covers more than just the teaching hours, but it will be starkly highlighted on some courses if all they continue to get is 5 1/2 hours or less of lectures per week

A quick update – the House of Lords has voted to back the increase in tuition fees, despite efforts to stop this. I’d say it’s pretty much confirmed now – no way out.

I wonder, do you think higher fees will actually increase the standard of uni education?

Hugh Williams says:
15 December 2010

I spend a lot of time on a university campus. I see a lot of students. I am convinced, based on the evidence of my eyes, that the typical student is lazy, drunk, drugged, unwilling to work and utterly unaware of what a privilege university education used to be. We need to reduce radically the number of students. All students should pay the full cost of their tuition. That will ensure that only those who have a wish to pursue education end up in universites – not just those who want a good time for three years at taxpayers’ expense. And, if this means they have to borrow money on the markets at commercial rates, so much the better. With far fewer students and far fewer graduates, companies will be more likely to snap up good degrees and pay off the loans which students had to take out. And the dross that now floods the university campuses can be drugged, drunk or otherwise out of it at their own expense before (one can only hope) being arrested and slung inside a prison for a few years.

FrederickSmith says:
16 December 2010

I strongly agree. I have long postulated that no one should go direct to university from school but should work for at least one year. This would reduce dramatically the number applying as they would appreciate having money in pocket. Many students go to uni (and drop out) to avoid the harsh realities of life for bit longer. I am an 84 year old, still working (I cannot afford to retire!) and my taxes are paying for some of these work shy character.
Any sympathy I had for students evaporated when I saw their behaviour and their attempts to blame the police for the the conflicts ensuing. The police have a tough enough job without such student behavior.
I have a relative who manages a university student bar facility. Her stories of how much students spend in the bars horrifies me.

robyn says:
15 December 2010

i think the fees or wrong we souldnt have to pay to learn its unfair

Mrs Sensible says:
16 December 2010

If your basic level of education is so poor that you make 2 spelling mistakes, and use no puctuation, in one sentence, you don’t deserve to go to university.

Not going to university is not the end of the world. If you cannot afford it, don’t go. There are many avenues in life. Initiative, hard work and experience gained whilst studying are valuable assets too. The rest of us should not be expected to pay for someone to enhance their own career prospects.

At first, is it make a sense, increase fees which will be borrowed from budged anyway? Tend that most of the students will borrow money from government budged after rise, then where are savings from? Do the maths. What about students which cannot pay money back, as they will significantly increase, is it help to budget?
We should not forget why we got this crisis this is bankers who lend money to people without thinking, we will have more no educated people everywhere in next several years, is it tent to create even bigger deficit (making bad decisions)?
Fees rising will reduce students, this will reduce income for universities and this reduce investment in new technologies at universities. They will need students, then to attract students they will increase pass ratio, and this is not mean will increase quality (better times for lazy students)!
Who in most complain about government – educated people – reduce them – government increased fees!
Really I cannot see any point at all for fees increase, which will increase money drawn from budged, this is happened when no educated people take decisions, isn’t it?

Blame the previous administration for their being no money left to pay for students – and probably lots more – a valuable lesson in life for the young people to learn at an early stage – let us hope when their turn comes to be ‘in power’ they do not have to take the same poor choice!