By Frances Mulraney
Around a fifth of all higher education institutes in England have applied to the Office for Fair Access (Offa) for a reduction in their tuition fees.
Twenty-four universities and three further education colleges submitted proposals in an attempt to gain access to an extra 20,000 student places.
From next year, English higher education institutes can charge up to £9,000 per student in tuition fees and more than a third of institutions plan to charge this amount. However, these 27 institutes wish to avail of the extra student places, offered to those who charge £7,500 or less in tuition fees per year.
They have each applied to Offa, who will confirm whether they have been successful by the end of this month. They may reduce their average fees by simply cutting fees, increasing the waivers in fees offered to students from poorer backgrounds, or a mixture of both of these methods.
Those successful in their request must then inform students who have already applied of any changes to next year’s fees within five working days. This has meant that some students in England have applied to third level education unsure of what fees they will be required to pay in the coming year.
This has given rise to disapproval from the UCU, the College Lecturers’ Union. Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, spoke of the uncomfortable financial position that this will put students in as they apply for college without knowing if the fees will be too expensive for them or not, “leaving universities and students to scramble around trying to save a few quid here and there is no way to run a world-class university sector.”
The shadow universities minister, Shabana Mahmood, also disapproves of this system, blaming the government’s approach to the issue, “the out of touch government’s rushed and haphazard cuts to higher education budgets go too far, too fast, with universities unable to plan ahead, and frustrated students without the full information to help them apply.”
However a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills disagrees saying, “the director of fair access has made it clear that students need to come first and anyone who has already applied should not be disadvantaged by any changes.”
With the rise of fees in the country next year, each institute that plans to charge students fees of more than £6,000 for the academic year 2012/2013 must submit an access report to Offa, on how they plan to encourage student diversity despite the fees hike.
Twenty thousand extra student spaces are to be made available for those charging under £7,500. Those charging above this figure, although they may recruit the same number of students scoring AAB or better in A levels, will see their “core” student recruitment cut by 9 per cent.
So far, 123 universities and 18 further education colleges have had their access agreements approved by the office.