A Southampton professor has made a statement raising concerns that universities are charging top-end fees to avoid looking ‘cheap’.
We all remember the day in 2010 when the price of university fees was tripled to a cap of £9,000 post Coalition, resulting in protests across the country in response to this drastic increase in price placed on young people’s futures. Ministers offered consolation in terms of promises that universities would only charge more than £6,000 in ‘exceptional’ circumstances. A promise which now seems laughable.
Recently universities seem to have entered into a frenzied competition of who can get away with charging the highest fees on as many courses as possible, according to Jurgen Enders, a Southampton professor, to avoid looking like the ‘cheap’ option.
Official figures released show that 6 in 10 universities now charge £9,000 on some courses, with this figure predicted to increase to 7 in 10 by 2014. A London School of Economics professor comments on these figures stating that universities feel free to charge these higher fees because they know undergraduate students have access to student loans. This goes somewhat towards explaining why postgraduate courses remain at an average of £6,000 per year; the lack of fee cap and loans available to PG students maintaining this modest (in comparison) price.
With the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills ensuring that this new fee system will encourage institutions to compete on the quality of the experience students receive at university (as a reflection of price), how many would agree that the increase in fees has guaranteed a higher quality of education, student experience or collateral for securing a graduate job?
Despite making the bold move to charge at the higher end of the fee spectrum, universities are about to face their toughest year of recruitment, with many Russell Group universities set to enter clearing later on this month. Last year some estimated 11,500 Russell Group university vacancies went unfilled, which has lead to the motion of making student recruitment a year-round effort in contrast to the September-January stretch it has always been. Southampton joins the likes of Glasgow, Manchester and Leeds in the strive to fill places, and it is rumoured Oxbridge may be joining them too.
Universities are beginning to approach their recruitment strategies more tactically, with many lowering threshold grades from AAB to ABB and offering scholarships and bursaries to many students who meet their requirements in order to fill places. A tight race is expected to take place for students who miss out on straight A-grades at A-level.
So the Catch 22 for UK universities forms: exercising the freedom to charge high fees, whilst fighting the growing problem of filling university places. The rise in fees has had the expected effect of putting off many from pursuing a higher education, registering the issue to universities that filling quotas will become more difficult in the future. Surprisingly though, this evidently hasn’t wavered universities from charging £9,000 on courses, making it all the more interesting to see how universities will approach to balance these strategic choices in years to come.