Sutton Trust report on tuition fees

04 October 2010

Commenting on the Sutton Trust’s latest report on the potential impact of changes in the university fee system, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, said:

“The Sutton Trust is right to note that universities need access to more funding if they are to continue to provide UK students with the high quality education they deserve. Many universities actually make a loss in recruiting many home students, particularly for expensive science courses, because of underfunding from the Government and the fact that we are not allowed to ask graduates to make a higher contribution to those costs. By contrast, the current system creates incentives for universities to recruit international students because they pay fees high enough to cover the costs of teaching them. 

“Despite these financial disincentives, universities continue to recruit high numbers of home students because they have a real commitment to providing high quality education for students in this country irrespective of their background. However, the current system is not sustainable, particularly if we are facing further damaging cuts. We simply cannot continue to provide the high quality education that our students need – nevermind take on higher numbers of students as the Sutton Trust urges – without asking them to make a larger financial contribution. 

“However, we have always been clear that any increase in graduate contributions should be accompanied by measures to address concerns about fair access and widening participation. The principle that our universities remain ‘free at the point of entry’ – that contributions are not repaid until graduates are earning – is critical.  Institutions would also take great care in setting the fee levels taking a range of factors into account to ensure they are as low as possible. Historical fees for international students do not give any helpful indication of future levels of graduate contributions for home students because different considerations are taken into account and a deregulated system for home students would create a different funding landscape from the one in which those international fees were set.  

“Evidence also shows that fees have not deterred young people from applying to university; participation in higher education from all socio-economic groups has actually increased since the introduction of variable fees in 2006. This is not surprising because educational achievement at school, rather than financial considerations, is by far the most important factor in whether a student will go onto higher education or attend a leading university.  As the Sutton Trust has shown, the real barriers to university entry are underachievement at school, misinformation, lack of confidence and low aspirations. This is why simply expanding the number of places at university is not the best or most efficient way of widening participation.

“Russell Group universities are fully committed to increasing their intake from lower-income families. Increased graduate contributions will provide additional resources for innovative access initiatives and bursaries. While we will consider the idea of fee waivers, we are yet to see evidence to suggest they would be more effective in widening participation than current initiatives.”

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