One in five universities have been given the green light to reduce their fees next October. However, the impact of the reduction will be to reduce fee levels across the country on average by just £39.
The reductions are mostly among the newer universities. They are bringing their average fees down to below £7,500, making them eligible to bid for 20,000 places set aside by ministers for those with lower fees.
In most cases, the reductions have been achieved by introducing fee waivers for groups of students – either those from disadvantaged homes or those achieving two A grades and a B at A-level. This allows them to bid for 60,000 places set aside for recruiting high-flying academic students.
Many of the 25 institutions given the go-ahead to reduce their fees have done so by switching from bursaries (where the student gets cash aid to pay the fee) to fee waivers. In all, the universities will be forking out £70m less in bursaries. Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, described the move towards fee waivers as a "con trick" which means that £70m would no longer be finding its way into students' pockets. "They help the Treasury, who have to spend less on loans but are of no benefit to students whatsoever."
The figures, published yesterday by the Office for Fair Access, showed the average fee in English universities would go down from £8,393 to £8,354 as a result of these measures.