Students in universities in England face tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year, as the government reveals its plans for higher education, the BBC reports today.
Fees will rise to £6,000 – with an upper tier of £9,000, if universities ensure access for poorer students.
Universities Minister David Willetts told MPs this was a “good deal for students and universities”.
Labour’s Gareth Thomas said the fee hike represented a “tragedy for a whole generation of young people”.
The National Union of Students dubbed the plan “an outrage”.
Much of the proposed fee rise, up from the current £3,290 per year, will replace public funding withdrawn from universities in last month’s Spending Review.
The Million+ group of new universities has warned the cuts will mean universities will be forced to charge the maximum £9,000 – and that the proposals are “very unlikely” to provide a “long-term and sustainable basis” for university funding.
“Unless universities charge £9,000 there is a big risk that they will be worse and not better-off because of the swingeing cuts to teaching funding. The fear then must be that the outcome of such high fees will be to damage participation and social mobility,” said Million+ chair, Professor Les Ebdon.
Ministers have been trying to achieve a balancing act between a sustainable funding system for universities and a political deal which will head off a Liberal Democrat backbench rebellion.
NUS president, Aaron Porter, said Liberal Democrat MPs who were going to ditch their election pledge to vote against any rise in fees should be “ashamed of themselves”.
Opposition leader Ed Miliband accused the coalition of breaking promises over tuition fees – but Prime Minister David Cameron said that such challenges from Labour showed that “opportunism has overtaken principle”.
Mr Willetts, presenting the plans to the House of Commons, confirmed that universities charging the highest fees will have to show support for widening access to students from economically poorer backgrounds.
This would mean the type of outreach programmes that many universities already carry out, such as summer schools and targeted scholarships.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has said this would not mean quotas of students from poor homes, but universities would be expected to show they were “energetically pursuing” such applicants.
Interest rates for loan repayments and earnings thresholds could also be adjusted to give more support to disadvantaged students.
Under the plans, students would take out loans to pay the fees. But they would pay the loans back only once they graduated and got a job paying more than £21,000, rather than the current threshold of £15,000.
Graduates would pay 9% cent of their income above £21,000 per year to pay off both the loan, and an above-inflation rate of interest.
It is expected that any graduates who wish to repay all or some of their loan more quickly would have to pay a penalty to compensate for the interest they would no longer pay.
But it is expected that better-off students will still be able to pay up front for their university education and avoid taking out a loan altogether.
Mr Gove said that under the new system “there’s no barrier for people coming from poorer homes, and there’s no penalty for people who choose to go into a low paying job”.
Michael Arthur, vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds, and chairman of the Russell Group of top universities, said the funding deal sent a signal that the government recognised “the importance of higher education to the future of our country, its economy and our ability as universities to help the country out of recession”.
The changes in tuition fees will apply to resident UK and EU students at universities in England. Scottish students studying in Scotland do not have to pay any fees. In Northern Ireland and Wales, fees are currently charged up to a maximum of £3,290. Source: BBC.
Overseas students on student visas already pay the full fees for their UK education and are not affected by the changes.
The funding changes highlight the need for non-EU overseas students, which are worth some £8 billion to the UK economy.
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