Students sceptical over tuition fee review

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The government has announced a review of the university tuition fee system, which could result in changes to how much students pay for their education depending on what courses they do.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, revealed her plans for education in a speech to students at Derby College in mid-February; including a greater focus on skills-based vocational qualifications, more academies and free schools, and most notably a “wide-ranging review into post-18 education”, emphasising a desire to “incentivise choice and competition” and provide “value for money”.

This could potentially mean the biggest change to university tuition fees since 2012

The Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, later elaborated on the plans, suggesting that the price of a course could vary depending on how much it costs to run, as well as “the value that it has to the student” and “to our society as a whole”.

This could potentially mean the biggest change to university tuition fees since 2012, when the cap on tuition fees in England was raised from £3225 to £9000 in an effort to create a more diverse spectrum of prices; but which in reality simply trebled the prices across the board. The cap has since been raised to £9250.

At this stage it is not known what effect these proposals will have, if any, but there has been much speculation and debate, particularly among students. A recent survey of 1019 students, carried out by the Higher Education Policy Institute, asked a variety of questions on the issue, revealing that most of those surveyed disagreed with varying prices for courses.

When asked whether full-time courses should have the same fees, 63% of students agreed.  However, in the case that the changes were implemented, 57% said they would support charging more for courses with higher teaching costs.

The Courier asked Newcastle students what they thought. Cindy, a medicine undergraduate, worried how the changes might affect the NHS: “In theory lowering fees for those who will have lower salaries makes sense, however it might discourage students from going for the professions with higher fees, which in my field could be detrimental to the NHS.

“Also, they have to consider course length as well.  Medical students may end up paying top-level fees for courses which are twice as long.”

Andrea, a PhD student, expressed concerns about the consequences for university funding: “I think universities tend to offer an increasing amount of social or humanities courses with relatively low overhead costs purposefully to maximise profit.

“Those kinds of students pay in more than they get back.  By lowering the cost of ‘cheap’ degrees, the universities would have less money, potentially hurting the provision of expensive courses like bioscience or medicine.”

Third year student Andrew addressed the lack of enthusiasm for the reforms expressed in the original survey: “It seems like a reasonable idea, but I think students are pretty exasperated with the government’s education reforms.  I think whether it will work or not will come down to the finer points of the legislation.  Many good ideas end up being terrible in practice.”

Last modified: 12th March 2018

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