Sarah Shaw discusses the ongoing and topical issue of tuition fees...
With some universities struggling to deliver the student experience they are promising, there is the potential for further voices to be added to the call to raise - or even remove - the current cap on tuition fees for England based students. This is a controversial subject but one that is sure to dominate the sector over the coming years.
Nick Petford, the current Vice Chancellor at Northampton University, has warned that tuition fees could need to rise to £20,000 a year to cope with the economic pressures faced by many institutions as student numbers increase. At present, student tuition is capped at £9,000 per year for England based school-leavers; not a small amount by any means. However, if his views are actioned by the Government then the result could be a doubling of fees which could have huge ramifications across the sector.
One outcome will be a greater parity in the fees charged between domestic and international students. This will mean that lines will blur and fees will be on much more of a level playing field for all students; international or otherwise.
A recent report to come out of Universities UK claimed that universities are facing significant funding difficulties as more students apply to study. The higher fees charged since the cap was raised two years ago have arguably only financed the cuts in direct Government funding and do not actually cover the increasing cost to support more students at each institution. This includes everything from buildings to essential facilities.
A 25% increase in student numbers over the next couple of decades will result in a net increase of nearly 100,000 new university places. The investment required to manage that rise has to be paid for somehow. However, at the same time, not all universities will attract - nor retain - their student numbers and they will struggle financially if they don’t meet their recruitment targets. It begs the question: More students? Less students? Is it a no win scenario?
In short, a balance needs to be struck between delivering high quality and improved teaching in first class facilities, alongside making sure that students (and their parents) see the university experience as affordable and value laden.