The hidden entry requirement to UK universities – Sophia Woodruff, United Kingdom

Why increasing fees is controversial, a potential impact of austerity and how it will impact current and enrolling students.

The summer of 2016 was a turbulent time for British politics with Brexit, the London mayor elections and Theresa May becoming the Prime Minister. Brexit stirred up a lot of anger amongst young people, but the main issue that impacted them was the decision to increase university tuition fees—something the mainstream media and British politicians are not addressing. Starting September 2017, the fees for students hoping to obtain a Bachelor’s of Arts or Science will increase from £9,000 per year to £9,250. To make things worse, residual outrage from young people over the 2012 increase in university tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 under the Conservative-Lib Dem government is still evident.

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Protest at Westminster for Student Assembly Against Austerity to protest the rising tuition fees (source: Getty Images)

 

Individual universities do not decide whether or not to raise their fees, and only eleven schools charge less than £9,000 to UK and EU students. The Reddin Survey of Tuition Fees conducted a survey in August 2015 that shows that 113 universities out of the 137 institutions were going to charge £9,000 for undergraduate degrees for the 2015-2016 year. Dr Bernard Kingston, Chairman of TheCompleteUniversityGuide.co.uk, commented at the time: “The levelling up of fees means that students will be less likely to choose courses solely on cost, and should pay even more attention to their suitability for their plans and aspirations” and continued to warn that the “impact of higher tuition fees on access by underrepresented groups, many UK undergraduates will have to rely on student loans to cover their university education”, leading to a high percentage of students leaving university in debt.

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A member of Osborne’s constituency posted a letter in May which detailed his view on increasing tuition fees from 2003. (Source: Facebook.com)

 

In the UK, finding funding for students at university has already been forecast to be harder than before, as former Chancellor of Exchequer George Osborne announced. This is certainly ironic considering the letter he sent to a constituent in 2003 condemning the introduction of “so-called ‘top up fees’, which will mean students paying £3,000 a year for their education”. In the letter, Osborne goes on to detail the Conservative plans to abolish tuition fees under their government, worrying that “grants have been abolished too, students face leaving college with debts of around £18,000” which is almost three fifths of the current debt faced by students. Clearly, the Conservatives did not fulfill their promise of reducing students fees or at least providing sufficient financial support to students.

 

How Tuition Fees work:

Student Finance, a non-departmental public body, is the primary provider of student loans in the UK. Within Student Finance, there are three branches: Student Finance England, Student Finance Wales and Student Finance NI (Northern Ireland). Scotland, instead, has the SAAS, or the Student Awards Agency Scotland, which pays the tuition fees of all Scottish students studying in Scotland. The tuition fees system works differently in Scotland than it does in England because they only charge £9,000 to English students and a reduced fee to the Welsh and Northern Irish.

 

When a university student takes out a loan from Student Finance, the tuition is directly paid to the university by Student Finance. According to the UK government, you have to earn at least £21,000 by either the April after you graduate from university or the April four years after you graduate. Most students repay the money directly from their salary and see a fixed sum taken off each month – £30 from £25,000, £67 from £30,000 and £217 from £50,000. The saddening fact is that most undergraduate students do not know about this increase in fees for 2016/2017 and many are unaware of how the general repayment system works after they graduate. For most university students, it is impossible to pay for university without taking out a student loan for tuition and additional loans, or potentially grants, which are becoming harder to qualify for, to help with accommodation and general living costs. This is definitely a situation that will not change in the coming years.

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Oxford University’s information for increased tees for undergraduates entering 2016/17 and paying for 2017/18 (source: ox.ac.uk)

 

At an undergraduate level, “the maximum fee loan will be increased by forecast inflation (2.8%) for the academic year 2017/18”, according to the Department for Education’s Teaching Excellence Framework’s eligible providers in 2016. While the government is accompanying this announcement with a disclaimer, saying that only higher education institutions that are “meeting expectations” will be allowed to raise their fees, both the highest and lowest rated universities are classified under this category. Cambridge University is ranked third globally and top in the UK, while at the other end of the scale, The Complete University Guide has rated London Metropolitan University as the worst in the UK for 2017; this, however, does not seem to reflect the government’s intent of rewarding academic and teaching excellence.

Denial over the impact of increasing fees:

Jo Johnson, MP and Universities Minister, who happens to be the younger brother of the previous London Mayor Boris Johnson, made the following statement at the Universities UK 2016 conference. His remark was on the future of students regarding any limitations from tuition fees: ”[there is a] vision of a country in which anyone, regardless of background, will have the opportunity to fulfil their potential, and I believe that this collaboration can be a catalyst for a true flourishing of social mobility”. Unfortunately, there are increased worries about whether the supposed social mobility will be possible with increased fees and reductions in financial support and aid for students.

The changes will restrict the amount and size of maintenance grants given to students unable to source funds to financially support their accommodation and basic living facilities. Finding substantial information on the increase of tuition fees itself is not as easy as it would appear; this in itself does not inspire much support for the changes as locating information about current and previous changes to fees is weighed down in bureaucracy and numerous articles, graphs and reports of almost irrelevant data on the subject.

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Graph detailing the increase in tuition fees from 1998 until 2014 (blog.prodigyfinance.com)

Recently, a press release from Downing Street notes that universities wanting to charge over £6,000 per year would have to help establish and support local schools to graduate to the higher threshold for undergraduate fees. This policy has no impact on those already increasing their fees to £9,250. Indeed, the ambiguity around this claim and silence on the new fee of £9,250 sees the Prime Minister potentially trying to draw focus away from issues surrounding student debt due to the sensitive nature. This change relating to £6,000/year fees will only impact institutions currently not allowed to charge £9,000, let alone the increase to £9,250. However, as both the highest and lowest performing universities are already charging more than this, it seems very unnecessary that so many institutions are regarded so low in league tables and rankings yet do not have to follow any bureaucratic procedures or offer support to local education providers in the local area to secure permission to increase already high tuition fees.

 

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