LONDON // University chiefs said that tuition fees need to more than double to up to £7,000 (Dh36,250) a year, a move which unions argue would deter poorer students and leave graduates with massive debts. Universities UK, which represents the heads of high education bodies, commissioned a study to examine the effect of different rises ahead of a review of the fees later this year. Currently universities can charge up to around £3,000 a year in tuition fees, which were brought in despite a large scale revolt by back bench Labour MPs in 2004.
The Universities UK report questioned vice-chancellors from 12 universities who said an average fee of around £6,500 would be needed to secure long-term funding for teaching. It said that raising fees to £5,000 would have little effect on students, but there was evidence that a level of £7,000 "may discourage some from enrolling in higher education". The study also said raising fees to £7,000 would leave average students with a total debt of more than £32,000 by the time they graduated.
The National Union of Students condemned the proposal. "In the context of the current recession, it is extremely arrogant for university vice-chancellors to be fantasising about charging their students even higher fees and plunging them into over £32,000 of debt," said the union president Wes Streeting. "Poorer students would be priced out of the more 'prestigious' institutions, and this must be avoided at all costs."
The University and College Union (UCU), which represents lecturers and academic staff, said any rise in tuition fees would prove very unpopular with the public and would damage plans to ensure universities attracted the brightest students, not just those who could afford it. "Increasing fees and other financial barriers that so many students and parents come up against when considering university is certainly not the way to deliver a world-class university system," said the UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt.
The Higher Education Minister David Lammy said no decision on fees would be taken until the review was concluded. "We absolutely will look at this issue again but after an independent review, independent of government," he said. A survey of 53 vice chancellors by the BBC found they were anticipating increases of between £4,000 and £20,000 per year, with some saying there should be no cap on the fee level.