Nine out of 10 universities opt to charge maximum fee
Offa data another blow to ministerial claims of ‘competitive pressure’
More than 90 per cent of English universities will charge £9,000 for at least some courses in 2014-15, with several increasing fees by more than 10 per cent.
Only 10 institutions out of 120 charging undergraduates more than £6,000 will not impose the maximum annual tuition cost of £9,000, according to Office for Fair Access data published on 11 July.
The average annual tuition fee for home and European Union students across the 120 institutions will rise to £8,740, up from £8,610 in 2013-14. If fee waiver schemes are taken into account, the average is £8,500, up from £8,362.
The increases will strike yet another blow to ministers’ claims that universities would charge £9,000 only in “exceptional circumstances”, with the new fees and funding regime putting them under “competitive pressure” to cut costs.
The rises follow a lack of student demand for low-cost places in 2012-13. Universities that charged an average fee of under £7,500 a year were able to fill only about half of the 9,600 extra “core-and-margin” places allocated to them.
With the number of low-cost places cut from 20,000 to 5,000 next year, many universities have decided to increase fees substantially.
The average fee after waivers has risen by more than 10 per cent at Northumbria University, Southampton Solent University and Bucks New University.
Several post-1992s will charge £9,000 for some courses for the first time, including the University of Portsmouth, Leeds Metropolitan University and Anglia Ruskin University.
Many colleges granted university title last year have also increased their maximum fee to £9,000, including Newman University Birmingham, Leeds Trinity University and Norwich University of the Arts.
In the Russell Group of large research-intensive universities, the London School of Economics has become the final institution to raise its fees to £9,000, having charged £8,500 in previous years.
All English universities and colleges offering undergraduate degrees must have access agreements approved by Offa to obtain permission to charge fees above the basic level of £6,000.
Offa says in a statement published on 11 July that it has approved the 2014-15 access agreements for all 162 institutions that applied, including further education colleges.
It adds that it negotiated with 42 institutions before reaching agreement, which resulted in an additional £6.4 million in access spending.
Under the 2014-15 agreements, universities and colleges will spend £707.5 million a year on access measures by the academic year 2016-17 (up from £671.8 million as predicted in the 2013-14 agreements). This equates to 26.4 per cent of the annual fee income above £6,000 that institutions expect to receive.
Les Ebdon, director of fair access, said he wanted universities to “broaden their student intake” by investing in school outreach, a category where spending will rise by 12.6 per cent to £124.5 million in 2014-15.
Business secretary Vince Cable welcomed the increased support for poorer students, but said “progress on widening participation among the most selective universities has been too slow, so it is vital this investment translates into results”.
Article originally published as: Maximum overdrive: nine out of 10 prefer charging as much as possible (11 July 2013)
Les Ebdon, director of the Office for Fair Access, on the 2014-15 access agreements:
If you had asked me what I most wanted to see in the first access agreements I approved, I would have had no hesitation in replying.
I wanted smarter investment – a much greater focus by universities on what really works to improve access to and success in higher education for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
I have not been disappointed. The access agreements for 2014-15 are more strategic and make better use both of institutions’ own evaluation of their access activities and existing national evidence of what works best to improve access.
So, for example, where a university has significant work to do to broaden its student body, we are seeing an increasing focus on outreach, and this needs to expand further, especially in those universities with the highest entrance requirements.
As a result, the sum spent on outreach has risen significantly, with institutions predicting they will spend £124.5 million under access agreements in 2014-15 – an increase of £13.9 million from the last set of approved agreements.
Those institutions with student bodies that are already relatively representative are shifting their investment to work to help students complete their studies and progress to employment or postgraduate studies.
What we term “student success spending” has therefore also increased markedly – up £17 million to £118.6 million.
Universities are evidence-based institutions, and it is right that they put this expertise to use when deciding where to concentrate their efforts.
Our work with the Higher Education Funding Council for England to develop a national strategy for access and student success will help further on a national level.
As we gather more evidence of what works, we will be helping institutions to share their experience and learn from each other, as well as encouraging investment in early outreach that benefits the sector as a whole rather than just the institution delivering it.
In Portsmouth recently, I met primary school children decked out in mortar boards and gowns, delighted to be attending their own ‘graduation’ ceremony following the completion of a scheme to raise awareness of university.
Many of those children will, I am sure, be at real graduation ceremonies in 10 or 15 years, so the whole sector will benefit, just as Portsmouth itself will benefit from early, sustained outreach carried out by other institutions. We always take work such as this into account when considering an institution’s access agreement.
I suspect there are some commentators who might have wished for something more explosive – a spat with a high profile vice-chancellor, or my refusing to sign an access agreement. That has not been necessary, nor would it have been desirable.
Institutions recognise the importance of access and student success, and are continuing to respond to OFFA’s challenge with vigour.
Looking ahead, I will continue to offer constructive support to institutions. But institutions should expect challenge too.
They are not the only solution to our access problems, but they do hold a lot of the cards. And there are still significant challenges - the fall in the numbers of part-time and mature students, for example, or the static access figures at our most selective universities.
I expect to see the excellent proposals in today’s agreements converted into real and measurable change that transforms thousands of lives.