Do British universities need to cut tuition fees?
By Joe Harker
Since increasing tuition fee caps in 2012 and cutting funding for universities the government has struggled to decide whether it should alter the situation. While many protested that paying around £9,000 per year was too much for students others argue that the government cannot afford to subsidise further education.
Previous suggestions have included cutting fees for most courses to £6,500 but increasing the costs of courses that are likely to lead to lucrative employment such as medicine or science to £13,500. This idea was met with fear from universities, who were concerned that it would lead to a decline in admissions for areas where the UK desperately needed graduates.
Some courses cost more to run than others and fees from the less expensive courses are often perceived to be subsidising the pricier ones.
Although delayed by Brexit, a review of tuition fees in England suggested they should be cut to £7,500 reports the BBC. The intention is to force universities to think about courses being value for money.
While subsequent reviews have suggested lowering fees to £6,500 is too much it is still the position of the government commissioned reviews that universities should feel the budgetary squeeze.
The BBC also reports that the government wants to announce a cut in tuition fees in the event of a general election to try and take the sting out of a key Labour policy. The Tories want it plastered over the headlines that they are the party lowering tuition fees (despite increasing them in the first place during the coalition government).
Universities are afraid that any cut in tuition fees will not be followed by government funding to make up the deficit. The Treasury doesn't want to commit funding at a time when the future of public finances is uncertain.
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However, The Guardian reports that Russell Group universities have issued a warning that a cut in tuition fees would force them to reduce course sizes and take on fewer students.
English, history and languages courses would suffer most if the government cut tuition fees and didn't provide funding to cover the cost. While science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates are the most prized university bosses have argued that the economy also needs other graduates.
Cuts to tuition fees could also harm businesses, reports the Yorkshire Post. Without the government stepping in to cover the extra costs business leaders argue that it would be "robbing Peter to pay Paul" to reduce the amount of money further education institutions got per student.
Business leaders are concerned that universities suffering will lower the amount of graduates in the economy while also doing direct harm to organisations that provide employment and benefits to their local areas.
The tuition fee cap in England rose to £9,250 per year in 2012. Fees in Wales are capped at £9,000, while Scottish universities are free for Scottish and EU students, though those from England, Wales and Northern Ireland have to pay £9,250. In Northern Ireland tuition fees for English, Scottish and Welsh students are capped at £9,250 but Northern Irish and EU students fees are capped at £4,160.
The UK needs more STEM graduates. Currently 53 per cent of students don't study STEM courses and would likely be the hardest hit if course sizes shrunk. Medical graduates are also highly valued as the NHS is facing a staff shortage likely to be exacerbated by Brexit.
The current model of tuition fees places the cost onto the students and their families. Most students have to take out tuition fee loans and subsequent maintenance loans to pay for food and lodgings during their studies. Grants have been reduced in recent years and most students leave university thousands of pounds in debt.