The worrying lack of power of the university fair access regulator

Ministers are now aware of the lack of powers that OFFA has, which leaves them with a couple of problems, writes Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union.

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

It has been quite an embarrassing period for ministers presiding over the current mess that is university fees. The head of the access regulator, Sir Martin Harris, has said that the regulator, the Office For Fair Access (OFFA), cannot legally enforce a fee level for a university. The news seems to have come as a surprise to the government, despite the fact that I wrote recently on Left Foot Forward about the toothless nature of the regulator.

Ministers are now aware of the lack of powers that OFFA has, which leaves them with a couple of problems. The government has done its financial modelling on universities charging an average fee of £7,500.

However, if the average fee is higher than this then the government won’t have enough in the kitty to pay universities. This is because students pay the fees back after they graduate, at a higher rate of interest than they currently are charged, and the government stumps up the money up front.

The other problem is that Liberal Democrat MPs are desperate that not all institutions charge high fees so it looks like the access agreements given to them as a sop for breaking their election promise to vote against fees was some kind of reasonable concession. Keen not to walk into a row about forcing universities to set certain fees levels, David Willetts instead said today that the government would look at ways to withhold other streams of funding if universities refused to play ball on fee levels.

Unfortunately that leaves him with another problem. The government’s decision to axe 80 per cent of the teaching budget – including the entire teaching budget for arts and humanities – means universities will need to charge an average fee of close to £7,000 just to recoup lost funding. Many newer universities who focus mainly on arts and humanities will have to charge even higher fees.

The whole thing is a complete farce at present. Universities are essentially being told they cannot charge the fee they need to recoup money that government has cut, but at the same time that they must offer a better quality experience because students are paying higher fees.

The minister also today announced plans for a student charter, which will set out what students can expect from their course, what it will cost, how many contact hours they will receive etc. Although conceived with students’ best interests at heart, the government is providing them with a charge sheet if they do not feel they are getting value for money.

Unless the government looks again at its devastating cuts to teaching budgets, we will see even bigger class sizes and an inevitable drop in the quality of the student experience. It is utterly ludicrous to expect universities to offer more for less, and quite ridiculous to encourage students to complain at a time when it is clear they are getting a raw deal.

20 Responses to “The worrying lack of power of the university fair access regulator”

  1. Jane Phillips

    RT @leftfootfwd: The worrying lack of power of the university fair access regulator: //bit.ly/fF0Sqz writes @UCU gen sec Sally Hunt

  2. UCU

    RT @leftfootfwd: The worrying lack of power of the university fair access regulator: //bit.ly/fF0Sqz writes @UCU gen sec Sally Hunt

  3. unileaks org

    RT @leftfootfwd: The worrying lack of power of the university fair access regulator: //bit.ly/fF0Sqz writes @UCU gen sec Sally Hunt

  4. Nick Greeves

    RT @leftfootfwd: The worrying lack of power of the university fair access regulator: //bit.ly/fF0Sqz writes @UCU gen sec Sally Hunt

  5. Helen Martin

    RT @leftfootfwd: The worrying lack of power of the university fair access regulator: //bit.ly/fF0Sqz writes @UCU gen sec Sally Hunt

  6. theothersimon

    RT @leftfootfwd: The worrying lack of power of the university fair access regulator: //bit.ly/fF0Sqz writes @UCU gen sec Sally Hunt

  7. Kelvin John Edge

    RT @leftfootfwd: The worrying lack of power of the university fair access regulator: //bit.ly/fF0Sqz writes @UCU gen sec Sally Hunt

  8. daniel vazquez

    The worrying lack of power of the university fair access regulator: … come as a surprise to the government, de… //bit.ly/hqzUDv

  9. AltGovUK

    RT @leftfootfwd: The worrying lack of power of the university fair access regulator: //bit.ly/fF0Sqz writes @UCU gen sec Sally Hunt

  10. StephenH

    RT @leftfootfwd: The worrying lack of power of the university //www.leftfootforward.org/2011/02/university-fair-access-regulator/

  11. StweetSmart

    "The worrying lack of power of the university fair access regulator" and related posts: Left Foot ForwardIt has … //bit.ly/hhZv51

  12. Lewis Smith

    "The worrying lack of power of the university fair access regulator" and related posts //ht.ly/1bvk55

  13. Mr. Sensible

    sally, everything the government has said on the issue of higher education funding has turned out to be hollow, and this is no exception.

  14. DrKMJ

    RT @leftfootfwd: The worrying lack of power of the university fair access regulator: //bit.ly/fF0Sqz writes @UCU gen sec Sally Hunt

  15. Goldsmiths UCU

    RT @leftfootfwd: The worrying lack of power of the university fair access regulator: //bit.ly/fF0Sqz writes @UCU gen sec Sally Hunt

  16. Broken OfBritain

    RT @leftfootfwd: The worrying lack of power of the university fair access regulator: //bit.ly/fF0Sqz writes @UCU gen sec Sally Hunt

  17. Cameron is wrong to suggest fees regulator has power to set levels | Left Foot Forward

    […] for some universities, as he did at Prime Minister’s Questions today. As Left Foot Forward reported in February, the head of OFFA, Sir Martin Harris, has said the regulator does not have the power to […]

  18. Tuition fees policy "shambolic", "backfiring", "a connoisseur’s cock-up" | Left Foot Forward

    […] that ministers initially thought that Offa – the Office for Fair Access – could set fees, which it cannot. Anyway, Offa is unlikely to take a tough line. It has only six staff – or the full-time […]

  19. Cameron fails to retract claim regulator will be able to cut fees | Left Foot Forward

    […] director David Barrett last week, quoted by Miliband, as Left Foot Forward has repeatedly reported, the head of Offa, Sir Martin Harris, has said: “The Treasury made assumptions, and one of the […]

  20. Will 2012 see the first university bankruptcy? | Left Foot Forward

    […] The worrying lack of power of the university fair access regulator – Sally Hunt, February 25th 2011 Share | Permalink | Leave a comment […]

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