Thought Tuition Fees Couldn’t Get Any Higher? Think Again.

Some universities are already advertising fees of £9,250 for 2017

tuition fees

by Vicky Spratt |
Published on

Thought university fees couldn’t get any more expensive than £9,000 a year? Think again.

As we reported earlier this year, as part of a white paper on education, the Government announced that universities who are deemed to be offering ‘high-quality teaching’ would be allowed to raise their annual tuition fees beyond the £9,000 limit from autumn 2017.

It seems that this change has now been brought into effect, while everyone was busy buzzing about Brexit. Durham, Kent and Royal Holloway universities are all already listing tuition fees on their websites as £9,250 for those students looking to embark on higher education next September.

These changes are part of the Higher Education and Research Billwhich has not yet finished being debated in Parliament. MPs will actually vote in the autumn as to whether or not these increases should be allowed to go ahead.

A Government spokesperson told The Debrief that the increases are only in line with inflation. ‘The ability to maintain fees in line with inflation has been in place since 2004 and the Teaching Excellence Framework which will allow universities to maintain fees in line with inflation if they meet a quality bar is not part of the Higher Education and Research Bill’, they said.

‘Any changes to fees will be laid before parliament as part of secondary legislation this autumn and those changes would not affect students until 2017/18’, they added.

The increase from £9,000 to £9,250 represents an increase of 2.4% in line with inflation.

However, John Pugh, the Liberal Democrat party’s education spokesperson, attacked the increases calling them a ‘disgraceful arrogance from some universities’. These increases are not ‘a done deal’ he said.

There seems to be some confusion as to whether or not the Government has given universities the go ahead to advertise higher fees ahead of the Higher Education and Research Bill’s next reading in the House of Commons.

If these increases do go ahead what will that mean for future generations of students? According to the BBC, at this rate, fees could be in excess of £10,000 within the next four years.

This year we’ve already seen the Government scrap bursaries for students from low income backgrounds, replacing them with loans and a U-turn on the repayment threshold for student loans. Now, it looks likely that we’ll tuition fees rise for the first time since 2010 which, potentially, sets a precedent for future increases.

The Government continues to argue that tuition fees, in their current form, are fair and insist that increases are the only way of ensuring we have a sustainable funding model for higher education. However, surely there are questions to be asked about allowing fees to rise when it currently looks like nearly half of graduates won’t ever pay back the debt they have under the current system? Indeed, as the FT reportssome graduates will still be paying off student debts into their fifties. Yes, you read that right - some of us will be paying off our debts at our parents age when their generation paid no such fees if they wanted to go to university.

As George Osborne’s much criticised freezing of the repayment threshold (which was supposed to rise in line with graduate earnings) shows – graduates aren’t earning as much as predicted. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported earlier this week, young people have suffered a drop in income since the financial crisis, while pensioners have effectively enjoyed a pay rise. Incomes for those aged over 60 rose by 11% between 2007 and 2015, while incomes for those aged 22-30 fell by 7%. The truth is that graduates aren’t earning as much as they were expected to.

And yet, tuition fees look set to increase? It's all very well and good for tuition fees to rise in line with inflation but there's no statutory obligation for salaries to rise at such a rate.

However, it’s not necessarily all doom and gloom. To use a truly millennial catch phrase – it is what it is. It’s a pretty crap situation. There’s no denying that the last two governments have handled tuition fees and student loans appallingly, both in terms of communication and policy but we aren’t going to get rid of tuition fees any time soon. However, we can change our outlook on them.

Martin Lewis, the founder of MoneySavingExpert, who has campaigned against the freezing of the repayment threshold once said you shouldn’t be thinking about the total amount you’ve borrowed or indeed the rate of interest on your loan. ‘Forget what you’ve borrowed – you’re just going to pay 9 per cent additional tax for 30 years’, he says. Lewis has long since said we should rebrand student loans and think of them more as a ‘graduate contribution’ or tax.

There might be something in that. Perhaps it is better to start thinking of our student loan repayments as a tax. After all, you only repay your student loan if you’re in employment and earning over a certain amount. If you own a house and you lose your job you still have to repay the mortgage, or you risk losing the house. It is what it is and we are where we are. The thought of being in tens of thousands of pounds of debt is a soul destroying one. Nobody wants to be in debt.

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Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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