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”.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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