UK government plans to raise university tuition to at least £6000 but students will not pay upfront

The UK government has announced today that university students in England will face tuition fees of up to ?9000 per year.

Science minister David Willetts presented the new plan for student finance, which will see tuition fees at all universities rise to at least ?6000, with an option for universities to charge up to ?9000 per year. Those that decide to charge more than the ?6000 minimum will face tougher conditions on widening participation and fair access. A new ?150 million national scholarship programme will be launched in conjunction with the rise in fees to encourage bright students from poor backgrounds to apply for university.

The reforms come following an 80 per cent cut in the government support for university teaching announced last month in the comprehensive spending review. Although the coalition government broadly supports the recent Browne Review (see Chemistry World, October 2010, p9), it has decided against the plan to remove the cap entirely. In addition, the government does not plan to apply a levy to universities that charge above ?6000, something Lord Browne recommended.

However, the system of payment for students is still closely modelled on Browne’s recommendations. Students will not pay their fees upfront. Instead they will start repaying their debt at 9 per cent of their income when they are earning above ?21,000, with any outstanding payments written off after 30 years. Interest rates on the debt will increase with the graduate’s level of income, with a maximum of inflation plus 3 per cent.

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The Browne review suggested removing the cap on tuition fees entirely

If the proposals are approved in parliament, the increase in tuition fees will affect students entering higher education in Autumn 2012.

’Essentially, it allows universities to replace a large part of the lost state funding for teaching by way of graduate contributions,’ says Steve Smith, president of Universities UK. ’We believe that this package of proposals represents the best available funding system for universities.’

But critics say the new proposals are a stealth tax on learning and aspiration. ’England faces the frightening prospect of becoming the most expensive country in the world in which to study at a public university,’ says University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Sally Hunt. ’Future students will be saddled with record levels of debts - and it doesn’t matter how they are dressed up, they still need to be paid off.’

The National Union of Students and UCU are jointly organising a national demonstration planned for 10 November 2010.

Leila Sattary