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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