Fees rise warning to Yorkshire

YORKSHIRE universities which attract high levels of people from deprived backgrounds and have low numbers of international students will be hardest hit by Government plans to raise tuition fees and slash teaching funding, a lecturers' union has warned.

The University and College Union has highlighted four universities in the region as being "at risk" as a result of 2.9bn cuts to degree teaching over the next four years and warned that students will face more than doubled fees as institutions attempt to make ends meet.

Sheffield Hallam, Huddersfield and Leeds Metropolitan universities are said to be at a "high-medium risk" as a result of the Government cuts, which coincide with plans to raise the amount universities can charge through tuition fees – being voted on by MPs today.

York St John's is rated as being at a higher risk as are Leeds Trinity University College and Leeds College of Music.

All six institutions have been rated at risk because the UCU believes the planned tuition fee hike will deter students from poorer backgrounds from being able to go to university.

In Sheffield Hallam's case the lecturers' union also highlights a lack of international students and a low number of undergraduates on courses which will have their Government funding protected – in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

Education chiefs at the Yorkshire universities being rated as under threat have insisted they are in a strong position to cope with the expected cuts.

However a spokesman for Sheffield Hallam has warned that any university which is dependent on teaching funding from Government and which recruits students from deprived backgrounds will be at risk under the new system.

The UCU report says: "Sheffield Hallam receives 37 per cent of its total income from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) block grant and has relatively low levels of income from overseas students to protect it against future income uncertainties. Its student cohort is disproportionately from under-privileged groups, who are the most likely to baulk at higher fees and it would benefit little from any residual Government funding for STEM or priority subjects, given that only 15 per cent of its teaching income is in those areas."

A Sheffield Hallam spokeswoman said the university believed it could "hold its own in a competitive market" as long as it could charge more than 6,000 a year.

The Government is suggesting fees be raised from 3,290 to a minimum threshold of 6,000 and a top level cap of 9,000.

The spokeswoman said: "The UCU analysis of Sheffield Hallam University says that we are a well-run institution. The figures the report uses are for 2009 and since then, we have already taken measures to contain costs. In 2010, on a turnover of 230m, we have returned a surplus of 13.4m, which was achieved by reducing staff costs from 67 per cent to 61 per cent of turnover.

"However, the UCU report is right to identify as at risk institutions which are dependent on HEFCE grants, Department of Health and Teacher Development Agency funding and who recruit a significant number of widening participation students. This type of institution educates around 50 per cent of students in higher education."

Leeds Trinity University College which was given its own degree-awarding powers last year is a member of the GuildHE group.

A spokeswoman told the Yorkshire Post it supported the GuildHE's view that the UCU report was "far too crude an assessment of likely financial difficulty or closure" because it did not into account the strong financial health or popularity of the institutions it names.

Other universities have also defended their position. A spokeswoman for Leeds Met said: "Government proposals on fees and the impact of any grant reductions have not yet been finalised. Nonetheless, we have undertaken prudent financial planning across a range of scenarios. The key, in any environment, is to ensure we are flexible and are able to respond to changes effectively and efficiently.

"We have recently approved our new strategic plan which sets out clear objectives for our university over the next five years."

York St John's vice chancellor Prof David Fleming said: "The Government has not confirmed what will happen with arts and humanities teaching funding, which forms just one of our streams of income.

"However, we are well positioned as a university in terms of our finances, our estates and our quality of teaching.

"The impressive rise in our applications in the last few years demonstrate that we are a strong choice for students."