University fees could more than double if recommendations in a long awaited review of higher education fees in England are enforced

Universities in England should no longer be restricted in the fees they can charge, according to a high profile report for the government published today. The recommendations would result in most students paying significantly more for their university education.

The long-awaited review of university funding and student finance by Lord Browne of Madingley presents a radical plan to shake up higher education in England with the aim of giving students more choice and power while allowing universities to meet the full cost of teaching. 


Future graduates could be sitting on a large pile of debt if the Browne recommendations are introduced

The basic framework for students would remain the same under the recommendations - the government would continue to pay the full cost of education up front and students would continue to have access to student loans, with fees and loans only repayable once the graduate is earning. In the new plans, graduates would only start to repay their loans once they are earning more than ?21,000 - an increase from the current threshold of ?15,000. However, universities would be free to charge much more than the current limit of ?3290 per year and graduates could leave university with debts of ?30,000 to ?40,000.

Under the new Student Finance System, universities that charge students more than ?6000 in fees would have to justify the decision to regulators and would also be subject to a levy, with a proportion of the extra income returned to the government. Extra money would also be made available to support the poorest students.  

In November 2009, Lord Browne, a former BP chief executive, was asked to lead an independent panel to review higher education funding and make recommendations to ensure that university teaching is sustainably financed, that the quality of teaching is world class and that universities remain accessible to anyone who has the talent to succeed.  

The recommendations from the review, if adopted by the government, would drastically reshape the university landscape by introducing a competitive market system, driven by student choice. The decision on whether to adopt the new system put forward by Lord Browne is arguably the first big test of the coalition government - the Liberal Democrat manifesto promised to oppose any increase to tuition fees.  

Lord Browne believes that the benefit of university to students does not reflect the cost at the moment and that most universities will choose to charge around the levy limit of ?6000. 

David Eastwood, vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham, UK, and member of Browne’s review team believes the proposal will guarantee quality in the higher education system. ’If the government adopts these progressive recommendations, we will achieve the higher education system our country needs and that our students deserve.’ 

Prior to the publication of the review Aaron Porter, President of the National Union of Students, posted a video calling students to ’get ready to oppose the findings.’ The 200 MPs who pledged to protect students from higher fees during the election should expect to be held to their word.  

Leila Sattary