Revelations that universities will be allowed to raise tuition fees as part of an incentive to improve teaching standards have been condemned as a “Trojan Horse” to further increase fees across the board.
Among a number of dramatic reforms to the higher education system announced in a Government White Paper on Monday, universities that score highly in terms of teaching quality will be able to raise their annual tuition fees above the maximum £9,000 in line with inflation from the 2017-2018 academic year.
The move – introduced as a Teaching Excellence Framework - has been widely criticised as a way of increasing tuition fees by stealth and further limiting access to higher education for disadvantaged students.
Gordon Marsden, Shadow Minister for Universities, Further Education and Skills said: “With over 60 per cent of students feeling their course is worse than expected, we welcome the focus on improving teaching standards.”
“However, the timescales for introducing the Teaching Excellence Framework look very tight, and concerns remain that it will be used as a Trojan Horse to increase fees even further and unleash the full force of the market in Higher Education.”
The proposed reforms follow a consultation launched by Government bodies in November amid concerns over a growing number of high-priced degree courses offering little to students by way of employability and skills.
Government ministers said the proposed reforms, which include “greater variability” in fees, come in response to a growing dissatisfaction among the student body regarding value for money in higher education courses.
As well as issuing a new maximum cap to fees - to be confirmed along with inflation rates next year - the proposals mean that approved institutions who demonstrate a drop in quality levels will have to lower the fees the are charging to existing students accordingly.
Both the National Union of Students (NUS) and higher education teaching unions said they were strongly opposed further increases however, and that students will “understandable be outraged” by the plans.
University and Colleges Union General Secretary Sally Hunt said: “The union strongly opposes any further rise in tuition fees, which are already amongst the highest in the world. Linking fees to dubious measures of teaching quality will do nothing to improve the student experience- instead it will create a tiered system which risks locking the most disadvantaged students out from some of the best institutions”.
“We remain deeply concerned by any proposed link between quality as defined in the TEF and additional income,” she added, “and will oppose any move to further increase the lifetime cost of higher education, which already sits at over £50,000 for the poorest undergraduates.”
Last month, a report by the Sutton Trust revealed that English graduates are more in debt than their American, Canadian, Australian or New Zealand peers.
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