Battle over reduction in tuition fees

Catherine Lally 24 October 2017

With Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent speech to the Conservative Party conference indicating a possible reduction in the maximum university fee of £9,250, fault lines are emerging among vice-chancellors over how new gaps in their finances will be filled.

Some Russel Group vice chancellors are advocating for post-1992 universities to be targeted for the introduction of reduced fees. They feel that modern universities will spend significantly less on carrying out research and teaching individual students than institutions like Cambridge. The cost of education was highlighted by the Times Higher Education in September 2016, writing that the University spends an average of £18,000 on educating each undergraduate, leaving a funding gap of £7,700. This raises significant questions over whether all universities should be allowed to charge the maximum annual tuition fee.

Others point to the disparities in earnings between graduates of the same subjects at different institutions, and whether the perceived worth of certain institutions, reflected in lifetime earnings, could justify differential fees. In an interview with the Guardian, Professor David Green (vice-chancellor at Worcester University), argues that Jo Johnson, the HE minister, is wrong to point at value for money as the primary concern of students, as “students do feel graduates are being asked to pay too much and that the government and firms should be making more of a contribution.” Also in the Guardian, Nick Hillman of the Higher Education Policy Institute, criticised the belief that post-1992 universities should receive less in student funding, being “caught in a perfect storm, losing full-time students at the same time as part-time student numbers have collapsed.”

We approached the University communications officer for comment, but were informed that we could not be provided with one at this time. The news comes as Cambridge University Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope faces controversy over his annual salary of £365,000 (more information on page 7). Many Russel Group vice-chancellor contributers to the Guardian article were anonymised, feeling that focus on their salaries casts their comments on funding in a negative light.