David Blackburn

Tuition fees set to spoil summer

Tuition fees set to spoil summer
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Tuition fees are lowering in the distance, threatening the stability of the coalition. A straw poll by the BBC suggests that a majority (two-thirds) of institutions are planning to charge the full whack of £9,000 a year. It's unclear which universities the BBC contacted, but the results follow a developing trend. 39 universities have stated that they want to charge the full amount on all of their courses, which prompts the Guardian to claim that the potential average tuition fee currently stands at £8,679.20, well above the £7,000 predicted by the government, which has led to fears of a black hole in the universities budget.

Above all, this threatens to destabilise the coalition. The Liberal Democrats, particularly Simon Hughes, have made plain that admissions have to be open to those from under privileged backgrounds and minorities. The recent furore over Oxford is a case in point.

However, there's some way to go before the coalition suffers a nuclear accident. First, each university's fee has to be approved by the government's access watchdog. Universities have yet to unveil their plans to discount fees for poorer students and bursary extension schemes, which will encourage fairness if appropriately allocated and taken up.

Also, it's unlikely that a university will charge £9,000 for every course. David Willetts said this morning he expected universities to charge a range of fees in line with what Lord Browne's limited market envisaged, where universities remodel and rationalise their services according to their respective strengths and weaknesses. This process is already underway. Last week, Manchester Metropolitan University announced that it hopes to charge £9,000 for roughly 20 percent of its courses; 75 percent will be charged around £8,000 and the remaining courses will be priced between the two figures. The university also opened a £10m scholarship fund to ensure that those of lesser means are supported. The government will hope that this becomes the norm.