Are top-up fees good or bad?

We take a closer look at the annual charges facing full-time students and ask students and experts if they think they are good or not.

What exactly are top-up fees?

Before September 2006, students paid a flat-rate tuition fee. Since September 2006, they have faced variable fees, popularly known as “top-up” fees, because they make up for the shortfall in funding the actual cost of certain degrees.

Are top-up fees the same for all students in higher education?

No. They can vary depending on the type of course you are taking and which institution you are studying at. Under the previous system, students paid about £1,175. But, from September 2006, universities and colleges were allowed to charge up to £3,070 per year for new students, and most institutions are charging the full amount.

Do you have to pay the money up front?

No – you can pay it off after graduation, via a fee loan from the Student Loans Company. When graduates start earning more than £15,000 a year, they have to start repaying their loan based on 9 per cent of their monthly earnings. So, say you were earning the average graduate starting salary of £18,000 a year, you’d pay back £5.19 a week. Unlike a business loan they are low-interest, and if you stop earning you stop paying.

Can you get any more financial help?

The non-means-tested fee loan mentioned above is available to all graduates. In addition, a partly means-tested loan has been introduced to cover living costs. For students from lower income households, the Government has re-introduced non-repayable maintenance grants of up to £2,700. They believe that around half of students will benefit from a full or partial grant. Full-time students could also be eligible for a raft of new bursaries offered by universities and colleges. In 2006/07, the typical bursary for a student receiving the full maintenance grant on a course charging the full £3,070 tuition fee is expected to be around £1,000. There’s assistance for part-time students too. Up to £1,150 is available towards part-time fees, and there’s also help towards part-time course costs of up to £250.

Where does the top-up fees money go?

Most of the money that universities get for teaching comes through a block grant distributed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The new top-up system adds, on average, £1,825 per student. This could mean an extra £1.4bn for universities by 2010. Universities have to recycle more than a quarter of that into bursaries, as well as recruiting more people from families without a history of higher education.

And are any more changes planned?

There is talk of the cap on fees being lifted in 2010. The theory is that if universities have greater independence to charge what they want, applicants will have greater choice. Advocates of lifting this cap also state that smaller universities and less popular courses could charge less to attract more students.

What the experts say

Opinion is divided when it comes to top-up fees. We have asked a number of experts and students what they think about it.

The YES camp

Bill Rammel, Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education

Research has shown us that graduates earn, on average, substantially more than people with A-levels who did not go to university. So, it’s fair and reasonable to ask students to contribute towards the cost of their degree. And, even with the introduction of tuition fees, the Government continues to fund the majority of the cost of higher education courses. For many people, going to university is a life-changing experience, and the best route to a secure future. The individual benefits of going to university far outweigh any investment.

Lynn Grimes, head of marketing and communications at Thames Valley University

Higher education is no longer a privilege reserved for an exclusive few in this country, it’s something that everyone’s entitled to. This has meant a massive growth in numbers and that puts an unaffordable strain on universities. Top-up fees are helping universities overcome this, ensuring top-notch resources and teaching.

Diana Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK

The additional income stream that the new fee regime brings in, while not resolving all our funding needs, is vitally important if we are to have a properly funded higher education sector. If the higher education sector is not funded properly then the future for prospective students is bleak. I strongly urge all prospective students to consult the Ucas website to find out more about the full range of bursaries available at whatever institutions they’re interested in.

Holly Arnold, a 19-year-old, second-year student at Goldsmiths University, studying media and communications

I think the new system of top-up fees is much fairer than the old system, which was in place when I started university in 2005. I couldn’t get a loan for my tuition fees, and my parents couldn’t pay them, so I had to work all summer. A lot of students don’t turn up to many lectures and don’t really take their studies seriously, but if you have to pay top-up fees, I think you’re more likely to be dedicated and come out with a good degree.

The NO camp

Sarah Teather, Education Secretary for the Liberal Democrats

Less well-off students now have a very different experience of higher education. They are more likely to work to support themselves, with their degrees potentially suffering as a result. If the cap on fees is lifted, we will see even greater incentive for students to choose their course on the basis of cost rather than quality. Fundamentally, I believe that access to higher education should be about what’s in your head, not what’s in your pocket.

Gemma Tumelty, NUS President

NUS is deeply concerned that the current top-up fees regime has a number of ill effects on students, on the higher education system and on society as a whole. With typical top-up fees of £3,000 per year, students can now expect to graduate with debts of at least £25,000 – indeed it is only the most privileged students that escape debt. NUS also believe that the wider impact of fees has not been properly considered. Fees can represent a threat to students training for roles like nursing and teaching that are highly valuable but not particularly well remunerated, as well as forcing many graduates to delay critical investments in property and pensions.

Chris Keating, a 20-year-old, second-year student at City University, London, studying business studies

For students like me [top-up fees] have meant a continual burden, especially living in London, which is an expensive city. I get some financial assistance, but my debt is still likely to be around £20,000 by the time I leave university and I’ll have bank and credit card debts too – all of which will need repaying when I start a job. I wonder how four-year courses, which cost more, will attract any people at all.

A deputy vice-chancellor at a university in southern England who wishes to remain anonymous

Some universities advocate lifting the cap to allow higher education institutions to create an even more differentiated system, in which applicants can make real choices based on service standards. But a proper market in higher education has the very real danger of creating the equivalent to the American-style Ivy League, which is not desirable.

News
people
News
John Rees-Evans is standing for Ukip in Cardiff South and Penarth
news
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
Sport
David Silva, Andy Carroll, Arsene Wenger and Radamel Falcao
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

FDM Group: Business and Technical IT Consultants – London, Manchester, Glasgow

21,000-24,000: FDM Group: Kick-start your career and join FDM’s award-winning ...

FDM Group: Business and Technical IT Consultants – Birmingham

21,000-24,000: FDM Group: Kick-start your career and join FDM’s award-winning ...

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'