The government that didn’t do its homework – fees fiasco hits deadline

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt takes the government to task - on the day of the student fees deadline for universities - for a bad policy, badly executed.

David Willetts

Sally Hunt is the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU)

Today is deadline day for universities to submit their tuition fee plans to the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).

Despite government claims that institutions would only charge the full whack in exceptional circumstances, it should come as little surprise that the vast majority are planning to charge the full amount or close to it.

The University of Hull became the latest institution today to opt for £9,000, and a survey by the BBC of 71 universities has revealed that over two-thirds plan to follow suit.

My union (UCU) has warned from the outset that the government’s sums simply do not add up, and that universities will need to charge far more than £6,000 just to break even from the huge funding cuts to university teaching budgets.

There is also the issue of prestige. By introducing a free market in to higher education and forcing universities to compete with each other for students, institutions are afraid that if they charge less than their next door neighbour students will see their courses as inferior.

It is easy to sound wise after the event but rushing through a vote on higher fees and then going into detail at a later stage was always a recipe for disaster. This policy has become a runaway horse and we have been left with the unedifying sight of ministers trying to spin deeply flawed proposals. To say the current policy is in disarray is an understatement.

The government is desperately hoping that OFFA will ride to its rescue, but the bottom line is that OFFA has no legal powers to regulate fees levels. It is a shame that no one in Number Ten or the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills took the time to listen.

We were by no means alone in raising concerns. Last month hundreds of Oxbridge academics warned the government that they were forcing universities to “fly blind” into an untested system of funding higher education.

Shifting the burden of paying for a university education from the state to the student will not generate the extra funds universities need, nor will it provide an enhanced experience for the individual student.

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  • William

    Do you want the ordinary,bright , hard working student to leave university without the millstone of debt? Just go back to the 1970 proportion of school leavers going to uni(not a converted poly).Anybody taking on £30k of debt in the vague hope of earning a lifetime excess of £100k, armed with a meaningless bit of paper from a renamed poly,deserves their fate.

  • Julian

    Why is no one criticising Lord Browne? The review which he was commissioned to conduct by the last government was meant to find a better way to pay for higher education. What they recommended now seems to be falling apart at the seams. What was the point of spending all that money on a review if it couldn’t anticipate what seems an obvious flaw.

  • Tim Worstall

    “There is also the issue of prestige. By introducing a free market in to higher education and forcing universities to compete with each other for students, institutions are afraid that if they charge less than their next door neighbour students will see their courses as inferior.”

    It’s amazing how that works out, isn’t it? Every shop I know of screams out that it wants to charge me more than the others and that by being charged more I’ll make sure that I don’t purchase inferior goods. Same with the car dealers, you know, all those signs saying “highest prices here!”. And the housing market: no, really, people do go around saying “well, I could have got it for £200k but I though it was so much better to pay £300 k for it.”

    Jeebus, there must be at least one economist in the UCU. Any chance of getting Sally to have a little chat?

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  • Richard Morris
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  • Dave Citizen

    Too many responses to what the Coalition is doing get bogged down in the detail and end up missing the wood for the trees.

    It may or may not be a surprise that Universities will be charging £9000 but would it really be fine if it ends up being say £7000? More of the discussion needs to focus on what kind of society we are seeing be created by all this stuff.

    Trouble is, in Britain we are saddled with a group at the top that have got things running just the way they like it. If anyone starts looking beyond individual trees they get nervous. Soon though the rest of us will have to look or we’ll find we’re going backwards just to maintain their status quo.

  • Mr. Sensible

    Sally, what percentage of our universities are planning to charge the full amount?

    It’s not even as if the government is saving any money from this, is it.

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