University tuition fees hit an £8,500 average


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The Independent Online

Plans by England's top universities to recruit more disadvantaged students were released today, as it was revealed that tuition fees are set to rise next year.

Students starting degree courses in autumn 2013 will pay just over £8,500 on average, around £120 more than those going to university this September.

A third of English institutions will charge the maximum £9,000 as standard for a degree next year, according to official figures published by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).

Around three in four will charge the top rate for at least one of their undergraduate courses.

Ministers had originally claimed that universities would only be allowed to charge over £6,000, and up to £9,000 in "exceptional circumstances".

Under deals which will allow universities to charge up to £9,000 as standard, institutions have committed to targets aimed at boosting their numbers of disadvantaged students.

These "access agreements", published by OFFA today, show that while many leading universities do plan to increase their intake of poorer students, in many cases the numbers will still be small.

Cambridge University's access agreement for 2013/14 shows that it plans to boost numbers from "low participation neighbourhoods" from a baseline of 3.1% to 4% by 2016/17, while Oxford's agreement says it will increase its numbers from a 9.4% baseline to 13%.

Youngsters from "low participation neighbourhoods" are those who are least likely to go on to higher education, and are usually from disadvantaged, poorer homes.

Any university that wants to charge fees of more than £6,000 must have an access agreement.

These agreements are reviewed each year, with institutions that fail to meet their agreed targets on recruitment and retention facing fines or losing the right to charge more than £6,000.

The documents for 2013/14 show targets provided by all universities that plan to charge more than £6,000, including other leading Russell Group institutions.

King's College London's target is a rise from 4.3% to 5% by 2016/17 and the London School of Economics aims to increase its numbers from low participation neighbourhoods from 4% to 6%.

Newcastle aims to boost its numbers of students from these areas from a target of 8.3% in 2012/13 to 12.2% by 2016/17, while in the same period Nottingham plans to raise its numbers to 7%.

Sheffield says it has a target of 333 students in 2012/13 and 392 in 2016/17, and Southampton plans to increase to 186 students from low participation neighbourhoods.

University College London's target is to increase numbers by 5% and Warwick has a milestone of 140 students in 2009 and 160 by 2020.

In total, 122 universities and 28 further education colleges now have access agreements in place for 2013/14, the second year of the tuition fee hike.

Students starting degree courses in autumn next year will pay estimated average tuition fees of £8,507, up from the latest estimate of £8,385 for 2012/13.

It is understood that the rise has been driven by universities making changes to their fee levels for next year.

After fee waivers, which reduce the charge for poorer students, the estimated average fee will be £8,263, OFFA said.

The figures show that 94 of 122 universities (77%) will charge £9,000 for at least one of their courses, and 42 institutions (34%) will charge the maximum as standard.

Among the further education colleges, three are expected to have fees of £9,000 for at least one course, and one will charge the maximum across the board.

OFFA insisted that when all financial support is taken into account the estimated average fee for 2013/14 will be £7,898.

Ten universities and colleges will charge an average of £9,000 after fee waivers are taken into account, the organisation added.

These institutions are likely to provide bursaries or other forms of financial support.

Sir Martin Harris, director of Fair Access, said: "Predicted spending on both financial support and outreach activity is up significantly compared to spending under the old fee and support arrangements although, as with 2012/13 agreements, on financial support the balance has changed from predominantly bursaries and scholarships to a mixture of bursaries and scholarships, fee waivers and other support such as accommodation discounts."

OFFA's statistics also show that, under their access agreements for next year, universities and colleges are planning to spend £671.8 million a year by 2016/17 on "outreach" measures to ensure that disadvantaged students do not miss out on higher education.

Dr Wendy Piatt, director-general of the Russell Group of leading universities, said: "Next year Russell Group universities in England will on average be spending more than 32% of their additional fee income on measures to improve access - more than the 26.5% average across other higher education institutions.

"And once financial support is taken into account the estimated average cost of fees per student is less than £8,400 at all our universities and less than £8,000 at a quarter of them.

"However, it is vital policymakers do not lose sight of the bigger picture by focusing too much on regulation instead of tackling the real issues."