Theresa May recently launched a review of university funding which recommended tuition fees are cut from £9,250 to £6,500 per year. However, the Russell Group has stated that a reduction in tuition fees would mean a ‘de facto cap on student numbers.’
It is expected that poorest students would be worst hit by changes to tuition as universities would have less money to spend on widening participation.
In an interview with The Print last year, President and Principal of Queen Mary Colin Bailey said that in order to charge tuition fees above £6000, Queen Mary has to put together a government mandated access agreement. Currently, £1,000 of every student’s £9,000 annual tuition fees goes into the access offer. This money is then spent on providing bursaries to less well-off students; ensuring retention of students; and creating sound support structures for all students within the university. If tuition fees were to be lowered, the funding for this would be drastically cut not just at Queen Mary, but most universities across the UK.
The Times reported the review has suggested students who get fewer than three Ds at A level should be banned from applying for student loans; essentially preventing them from going to university. Higher Education Statistics Agency data analysed by The Guardian reckoned that this could mean that 16 universities could lose up to 36 per cent of their full-time degree students.
The universities which would be worst affected if this was implemented include London Metropolitan University, Bolton University, and the University of Bedfordshire.
Since 2010, limits on student numbers at universities started to be removed. The Russell Group claims that this has meant the number of the most disadvantaged students going to universities increased by almost a third since tuition fees tripled to £9,000 a year.
In a recent interview, Colin Bailey said: “Back when there was a cap on student numbers, so many people from less-privileged backgrounds missed out. Since the cap was lifted, more progress has been made. We must make sure any future changes in the way universities are funded do not reverse this positive trend.”
A cut in tuition fees may appeal to voters, however it is estimated that the Treasury would need to cough up around £3 billion a year to plug the funding gap that would be created.
Universities themselves are already under huge financial pressure. The Independent devoted their front page on 17 February to the ‘black hole’ in university funding. There is a huge funding crisis in UK universities, institutions are to be £222 million worse off because of rising pension costs, yet the Department of Education have warned that they will not be offering any additional support.
Shadow Secretary of State for Education Angela Rayner commented, “This cannot continue. It is causing great harm and instability, but the Tories continue as though everything is fine.”