In an interview with Times higher Education, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge said that the institution is economically stable within the current £9,000 tuition fee system, along with investments, and is “concerned about increases in fees”.
“We have to think of the whole higher education sector as one of Britain’s best and most important export industries” he added when asked if he was concerned over the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills being asked to model cuts of 25% to 40% to its budget of over £13 billion.
Sir Leszek’s position on tuition fees is a contrast to the University of Oxford’s Andrew Hamilton, who in 2013 called for variable fees which reflect the “real cost” of university education to a future government – which he calculated at £16,000.
Although Cambridge’s recent calculation of the real cost of undergraduate education was £16,700 per annum on average, Sir Leszek commented “we are always concerned about increases in fees because of the problem that it would cause to individual students or their desire to access higher education, which is an essential part of a forward-looking economy for the future”.
“From my point of view, we are able to sustain that on the current fee, based on the performance of our investments” he added and isn’t “lobbying the government” for variable fees.
Cambridge’s vice-chancellor concerns were raised after universities called for the limit on tuition fees in England to be lifted above £9,000 this summer. Universities push for higher fees – heads want an increase in funding for higher education as well as tuition fees to be protected.
The Chancellor declared that universities who could show “good quality” will be able to raise tuition fees by the level of inflation from the academic year starting 2017 /2018 – which translates to elite universities being more likely to charge higher fees than £9,000. Furthermore, he announced that there will be a 5-year freeze at which students start to repay their loans – which is £21,000 a year. Currently, students are means tested and those from families with a household income less than £25,000 a year receive a full grant of £3,387, and this figure reduces until families which earn £42,000 a year or more – where students receive nothing. However, with the maintenance grants being scrapped and replaced with loans, this figure will be worth more than £8,200 for maintenance. The maintenance grants will no longer be available for students studying in the academic year beginning in 2016/17 and thereafter.
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, a charity which campaigns for equal access to education warned “shifting grants to loans may move them off the balance sheet but it could also put off many low and middle-income students and tip the balance against [them] going to university.
Chancellor George Osborne said these moves are necessary if the government wishes to succeed in recruiting more students into higher education. He added there was “a basic unfairness in asking taxpayers to fund grants for people who are likely to earn a lot more than them” through their degrees, providing increased university fees will improve teaching quality.
Sally hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union said “Maintenance grants are crucial for engaging students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are already daunted by cripplingly high tuition fee debt. She also said: “Increasing the debt burden on students will act as a disincentive to participation, and it does not make sense for the taxpayer either as the extra loan amount is unlikely to be repaid in full”.
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