Universities UK report on variable tuition fees

17 March 2009

In response to a report by Universities UK looking at future scenarios for variable tuition fees, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, said:

“There is a growing consensus that without increased investment, there is a real danger that the success of our world-leading universities will not be sustained.  In a difficult economic climate there is even greater urgency to find additional funding.

"Our universities continue to be subject to some extremely difficult economic conditions with income streams under threat, costs increasing and international competition escalating, particularly as our competitors continue to make substantial investments in their universities. In the current climate there is likely to be increased pressure on finances, with vital income from charities and business squeezed; revenue from international students volatile, and costs for people, energy and borrowing soaring.

"Recent HEFCE research showed that universities need an additional 15 -20% funding for current teaching levels to be sustained.  It concluded that without further investment the ‘quality of the student experience and the reputation and contribution of English higher education will suffer’.

"The Russell Group has therefore been investigating a range of options to solve the funding crisis and to ensure that financial burden is spread fairly. The state, employers and graduates benefit hugely from research-intensive universities, but at the moment the taxpayer still foots the lion's share of the bill.

"An increase in tuition fees is clearly one of those options but we want to be one hundred per cent sure about the impact of any changes to fee levels on students before putting forward our own proposals. The evidence to date is very promising. The introduction of variable fees in 2006 had no adverse impact on recruitment: applications to English universities have continued to increase from students of all social backgrounds. This is not surprising, because educational under-achievement - not finance - is the key reason for a lower proportion of working-class students in higher education.

"Our institutions have a key role to play in helping the UK survive the economic downturn and to stimulate a recovery. It is therefore vital they are given the right conditions to continue to flourish.”

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