Call for universities to be able to charge unlimited tuition fees

Graduate employers want current annual ceiling of £3,240 to be lifted

Education Editor,Richard Garner
Tuesday 09 March 2010 01:00

Universities should be given the freedom to charge students whatever tuition fee they like, the body representing the country's 750 largest employers of graduates will say today.

The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) says that lifting the cap – currently £3,240 a year – is needed if standards are to be maintained in the wake of £518m of cuts being made by the Government.

A free-for-all, which could see fees rise to £20,000 a year for some popular courses, immediately sparked protests from student groups, who said that the idea was "offensive".

The AGR's call, made in a "manifesto" published to promote debate during the impending election campaign, coincides with a government inquiry into the funding of higher education, which is expected to report after the election and is under pressure to recommend an increase in tuition fees.

A survey of university vice-chancellors in March 2009 found that the majority would like to see a rise, to £6,500 a year, on average. Sir Richard Sykes, the former rector of Imperial College, London, said he wanted to be able to charge full cost fees – which could be as high as £20,000 – for some courses.

The AGR's manifesto makes it plain that it would like to see a gradual lifting of the cap, so that universities would be able to set their own fees by the end of the decade.

Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the AGR, said: "These proposals reflect the views of 750 major employers, which collectively recruit around 30,000 graduates a year in the UK."

He added: "We know that some of these calls to action – which relate to funding and finance – are unlikely to receive a universal welcome.

"After careful consideration, however, we have concluded that this package of measures is the best way to drive up standards in higher education, provide a better return on investment for students and parents, and ensure the UK remains competitive in a global economy."

The proposals state that parents should be encouraged to start saving for the cost of university while their children are young through a national savings scheme.

The AGR makes it clear that the lifting of the cap would have to coincide with measures to ensure there was no financial barrier preventing those from poorer homes seeking a university place.

Its manifesto also calls on the Government to scrap what it calls "the artificial 50 per cent target for [entry into] higher education".

"Growing numbers of students are studying degree courses in below average institutions," it adds. "This does not help people's life chances or represent a good financial investment. It also creates problems for graduate employers who can no longer be sure what the value of certain degree courses and institutions is. The focus must shift back to quality rather than quantity."

In addition, the manifesto calls for the current degree classification to be scrapped and be replaced by an achievement report card listing a range of students' achievements.

The AGR's manifesto was criticised last night by student and university lecturers' leaders.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "The future for the UK is at the forefront of a high-skilled knowledge economy and we won't get there with less graduates.

"It is time that business started to make a proper contribution to university funding, instead of parroting its siren calls to increase the debt of students and the burden on hard-working families struggling in tough economic times."

Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, added: "At a time when students are leaving university with record levels of debt, and graduate job prospects are at an all-time low, it is offensive to argue that the cap on fees should be raised, let alone lifted entirely."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in