28 universities consider cut in fees

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The Independent Online

More than two dozen universities are considering lowering their tuition fees for 2012, with eight already submitting plans to do so, it was revealed today.

The move comes in response to the Government's announcement of incentives for institutions that keep their fees low.

Ministers announced in a White Paper this summer that English universities who charged £7,500 or lower would be able to bid for a share of 20,000 funded student places.

According to new figures released by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), 28 universities and colleges, all of whom were planning on charging above this threshold, have expressed an interest in revising their fees.

Of these, eight universities have submitted revised "access agreements" to either reduce their overall fee level, or increase the amount of "fee waivers" they plan to offer to poorer students.

Universities planning to charge over £6,000 had to submit "access agreements" to OFFA setting out how they planned to support students and ensure that those from poorer homes were not priced out.

But these access agreements were submitted before the White Paper was published.

It is in light of the proposals in the White Paper, offering more places to universities that keep fees low, that some institutions are considering revising their fee plans.

Universities who intend to change their access agreements have until November 4 to submit their proposals, with OFFA informing institutions whether their application has been successful by November 30.

The deadline is tight as students have until January 15 to submit their university applications.

OFFA today published new guidelines for universities wishing to change their fees. It says institutions must contact all students who have already applied for next year to inform them of the changes to their financial support.

The guidance comes just days after the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) opened the bidding process for universities wishing to apply for a share of the 20,000 places available to those who keep their fees under £7,500.

OFFA director Sir Martin Harris said: "In deciding how to approach revisions to 2012-13 access agreements, we have sought to minimise the impact on applicants. Our resulting guidance makes it clear that applicants must continue to receive the same overall level of financial support - even if the balance changes between bursaries and fee waivers - and must receive sufficient warning of any revised package to enable them to change their university choices, if they so wish, without prejudice before the Ucas deadline of 15 January.

"At the same time, we have been mindful of legal advice that it would be reasonable of us to give universities and colleges a limited opportunity to revise agreements, given that government policy has changed since universities and colleges first submitted their 2012-13 access agreements. We have also been mindful of the risk to access at individual institutions facing a reduction in their student numbers."

MPs voted to triple tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000 in December last year.

More than a third of English universities are due to charge fees of £9,000 as standard from 2012, while almost three-fifths will charge the maximum for at least one of their undergraduate courses.

The White Paper contained plans to hand 20,000 places to institutions charging £7,500 or less for courses on average - known as "core and margin" places.

Universities will also be allowed to offer unlimited places to students who achieve two As and a B or higher in their A-levels.

Toni Pearce, National Union of Students vice-president said: "The Government's incoherent changes to higher education funding continue to wreak havoc and chaos on students and universities as Ministers realise that they failed to do their sums properly.

"Tens of thousands of applicants now face an anxious wait at an already stressful time.

"Students looking to assess and compare what support will be available to them will be facing weeks of uncertainty and many will find that vital bursaries have been replaced with tokenistic fee waivers."