Universities given permission to increase tuition fees every year

New legislation allows universities to raise fees annually, despite new teaching quality measurements delayed until 2020

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The Independent Online

Almost all universities in England have been granted permission to increase tuition fees year-on-year, following new legislation being pushed through Parliament before the general election.

Ministers claim the new legislation comes as part of efforts to improve teaching in higher education, offering greater value for money for new students. 

But the Teaching Excellence Framework – designed to monitor quality and allowing institutions to up their fees accordingly – will not be implemented until 2020. 

In the meantime, universities can make inflation-linked increases as they choose.

With this year’s undergraduate students expected to pay £9,250 per year in tuition fees alone, concerns are growing for a generation saddled with a lifetime of debt.

Students in England are said to graduate with more money owed than anywhere else in the English-speaking world.

Last month it was revealed students would also be subjected to steeper loan repayment fees, as interest rates rise from 4.6 per cent to 6.1 per cent from the autumn.

The Higher Education and Research Bill has taken months to go through, facing a series of amendments in the House of Lords

This week the legislation was passed with a series of compromises in a rush to see it put through before the close of Parliament.

Lady Sue Garden, Liberal Democrat lead for Higher Education, told The Independent: “We were intent on removing the link between the flawed TEF metrics and the ability to raise fees. We achieved this, along with a detailed review of the TEF.  

"Having fees rise with inflation was something we had to concede – and universities seemed to want this.  

"We were at pains throughout the Bill to hear direct from universities as well as from students and to frame amendments which would help preserve the high international reputation of our university sector.

“The unprecedented number of amendments indicates just how ill-conceived parts of this Bill were.  That the government accepted so many of them is testimony to the persistence of peers, and to having Ministers who listened.”

Along with the changes in fees, the Bill makes way for the creation of a new Office for Students, which will act as a regulator for higher education in England.

Debating the matter in Parliament earlier in the year, cross-party peers criticised the proposals, claiming the changes allowed for universities to become “marketised” which in turn devalued the reputation of the British degree.

Universities, ministers and influential industry leaders have also campaigned for students not to be included in net migration targets as outlined in the Bill, but the amendment was rejected.

Lord Hannay, who proposed the amendment, told the House this week that the government had threatened to “kill the whole bill” if the amendment remained in place, which “shines a pretty odd light on their priorities”.

“The problem will not go away,” he added.

House of Lords blocks controversial Higher Education bill

Conservative and Labour MPs have vowed to continue to fight the decision, however, despite Theresa May’s insistence. 

The Independent and the Open Britain group have called for foreign student figures to be removed from net migration figures as part of their Drop the Target campaign against the Government’s goal to reduce net migration to less than 100,000 a year.

Removing foreign students would make the target easier to hit, since some 134,000 have come to the UK to study in the past 12 months – making up around half the total net migration figure for the same period. 

The Prime Minister believes changing the system would be seen as “fiddling the figures”, however, and wants to drive down the number of overseas students.

Although the proposal has been rejected, universities believe that a longer-term deal could still be achieved, saying there is an agreement to look again at the data on overseas students and migration.

Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK, said she was encouraged by suggestions a longer-term deal could still be achieved.

Universities anticipate that the status of international students could be reconsidered as part of wider reviews of migration during the Brexit negotiations.

The university sector also supported compromises which will set a higher bar for new institutions to gain powers to award degrees and to be given a university title.

Dame Julia said the legislation offered “stability during a time of uncertainty”.

“We agreed there was a need for new legislation, but we had concerns about the original draft bill.

”Thanks to MPs and peers, and the willingness of ministers and officials to engage and listen, the final bill has been significantly improved.“

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