University fees rise 'will put off poor students'

YOUNG people from the poorest backgrounds will be put off going to university as a result of the tuition fee increase despite coalition Government attempts to make the charges "progressive", according to a higher education chief in Yorkshire.

Huddersfield's deputy vice chancellor Prof Peter Slee said he did not believe the extra support being planned for the most deprived students would prevent some young people from being daunted by fees being potentially trebled.

Fees will rise to a minimum of 6,000 and a maximum of 9,000 from 2012 in a major reform of the country's higher education system as the majority of universities' teaching costs are met by the student instead of the state.

However the Government is planning to create a national scholarship programme which will pay for one year of a degree course for students who received free school meals. If the university they go to charges more than 6,000 a year then that institution will also have to pay for a year of their course.

Ministers expect this scheme to benefit around 18,000 students from the poorest backgrounds.

The Government have also said the fee increase is "progressive" as 25 per cent of students who earn the least after university will pay back less under the new system than they currently do.

Prof Slee said he did not think the Government's plans to support the poorest students would have any impact as research suggested that increasing fees would reduce the demand for a university education.

He said: "A report done by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that every 1,000 increase in fees would result in one per cent of the university market disappearing.

"Using this measure a rise to a 7,000 fee would mean four per cent of students no longer going – this is the equivalent of seven universities across the country closing.

"Research by the Student Room website showed that between four to eight per cent of students would be put off going to university because of the fee increase."

From 2012 universities will be more reliant on the money they raise through student fees. The Government will no longer pay for degree courses in areas other than science, engineering, technology and maths meaning universities face an 80 per cent drop in teaching funding.

The new basic threshold for tuition fees is 6,000 a year however universities are expected to have to charge at least 7,000 a year in order to recover the money they have lost in funding cuts.

Prof Slee said that universities would have to become more competitive and do more to ensure they could attract students in September 2012. He said that school leavers would pay more attention to universities' student satisfaction ratings and their graduate employability figures when deciding where to study.

Leeds University's head of student recruitment Helen Clapham said the higher education sector now had to work to ensure that young people were not scared off the idea of going to university as a result of the fee increase.

She said: "The challenge is for us to explain the new arrangements to make sure people are aware of the support that is available under the scholarship programme and that the repayment arrangements are actually more attractive than under the current system."

Under the proposed tuition fee increase, the repayment threshold is rising from 15,000 to 21,000 and graduates who earn 25,000 a year will pay back their debt at a rate of 6.92 a week. Ms Clapham told the Yorkshire Post she expected the fee increase to affect the choices students made.

Although Leeds University has seen a high level of demand across its degree subjects for next year she said "particularly high increases" have been seen in professional vocational courses such as medicine, dentistry, law, the business school and nursing.

Universities will announce this Easter how much they plan to charge in 2012 once the cap on fees is raised. The Higher Education Policy Institute has predicted that most institutions will charge the maximum 9,000.

Leeds University's vice chancellor Prof Michael Arthur has previously said the institution could charge between 7,000 and 8,000 while Huddersfield's vice chancellor Prof Bob Cryan has ruled out charging the full amount.

Prof Roger Lewis, the chief executive officer of Yorkshire Universities, a group representing the region's higher education providers said: "As the proposed changes to fees and higher education funding become clearer, it is important that students are given the information, advice and guidance they need to be able to make the right decision about their future. I know that all the higher education institutions in Yorkshire are committed to providing accurate and relevant advice to current and future students."

A-level pupils in firing line

Students aged 16 and 17 who are currently sitting their first year of A-levels will be the first generation to be asked to pay the increased university fees in 2012.

The idea for raising fees beyond 3,290 was introduced by the Browne Review earlier this year which called for the cap to be lifted to allow universities to charge what they like. The Government changed this recommendation to include a 9,000 maximum charge.

Universities will need to raise fees to cover a loss in income caused by 80 per cent cuts in teaching budgets from next year as part of the coalition Government's plan to tackle the deficit.

Graduates will not begin to repay their loan until they earn 21,000