Nine out of 10 universities in England are to charge the maximum tuition fee of £3,000 when they are allowed to raise their fees next year.
However, around 400,000 students from low-income families may receive bursaries totalling £300m to help fund their studies.
But student leaders say poorer people will continue to be put off university by the fear of going into debt.
Sir Martin Harris, director of the Office of Fair Access to higher education, responsible for approving universities top up fee plans said the universities had gone further than he had expected.
Is enough being done to encourage people from poorer backgrounds to go to university?
This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
Access to higher education ought to depend on ability, not wealth. The success of society, the quality of life for everyone in society, depends very much on a high level of education all round. It's not just that some professions require a university degree as a starting point, but that an understanding of the world and its people cannot be maintained by reducing levels of education. Debts are just the first adverse effects of short-sighted fees. The more serious consequences will loom large a generation or more in the future.
John M, Lyne Meads, UK
Universities need money, people need to remember they are not here just to teach but to research too. Students who gain a good degree and go in to a job such as teaching or research (something useful to society) should have all loans and fees paid for them, the rest should pay for their education.
The new fees will be post-graduation and dependant upon getting a high paid job, this is good. Other aspects of the bill are not so good. Unfortunately few people are actually discussing the real issue behind university funding, which is the assumption of the net-gains made by marginal students. The details are complex, utterly economical, but vital. Unfortunately politicians of all sides would rather hide behind dumbed-down, headline grabbing, 5 word arguments. As a result the public have largely been denied the right to a well formed-opinion. This is hardly in the spirit of democracy.
Mike Jones, Cardiff, Wales
Yes, they should be getting more money, and the government is probably right that taxpayers would baulk at paying what it costs. Since they're so keen on public-private partnerships, I'm surprised we've not heard of any schemes to promote more sponsorship of universities and students alike. Seems the obvious solution.
Andy Millward, Broxbourne, UK
The sad fact is, that the universities desperately need money! Many of them (including the one I study in - Edinburgh) are in serious debt. They don't get enough money from the government (or from private research grants) to cover the costs of teaching so many thousands of students, so they will be forced to charge tuition fees in order to maintain a good quality of education. The government surely realises this but would rather see students fork out than the treasury doing so!
I started university in 1997 - no fees and a full grant. My debts on graduation were minimal. And that's the way it should be. Education is a right, not a privilege, and everyone, regardless of their social background or financial status, should have access to a free education. Come on Tony, cough up. You had a free education at Oxford - why can't we?
Jo Salmon, Oxford, UK
Too many students, too many universities, not enough money. A decision has to be made, either charge top-up fees and give the 'top' universities the money they desperately need or reduce the number of universities. What we are seeing is the failure of 50% admission target. Bring back separation between universities and polytechnics.
At the university I went to (Cambridge), the university rules banned students from working outside of their studies during term time, and it was enforced as well. Why? Because we were full time students that's why. We were supposed to be studying and learning, not worrying about debt and working behind a bar at times when we had work to do. Do you want your future doctor/lawyer/teacher to be learning their trade or lying awake at night worrying about £30,000 of debt?
Katherine, London, UK
This university issue is really a red herring. It is in the interests of university to expand to not only charge £3000 plus the monies from central government because education is essentially a business. But given the fact that we have so many overqualified people and too many courses which are effectively college courses, is this then any wonder? University is misused both by the pupils and by the establishment. What are students/ post grads going to do when knowledge they have paid for becomes a cheaper commodity? I do not agree that this is the right road to traverse. My children are not going to university, not because they are not bright enough but because they have found other solutions.
Tony, Welling, Kent
I'm from a relatively poorer background and I went to university with the attitude that I would achieve a degree no matter what I had to do. This meant part-time jobs, student loans, begging from parents, and living very, very frugally. But I learnt the value of a dollar, learned that money is not the most important thing in a person's life, and got plenty of job experience. I would have appreciated receiving a scholarship to make life easier, but some healthy struggle is truly character-building.
Jeremy, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Yes, universities should charge fees. I have recently completed both a degree and PhD in chemistry, and have very little debt. I had to pay fees, received no grant (during my degree) and did not get any financial help from my parents (thanks to Mr Brown's tax hikes!) I worked hard, held down a part time job, and enjoyed every second of University life. What I want to know is how people are getting themselves into such huge amounts of debt! Isn't it about time they started taking responsibility for their own finances rather than just blaming everyone else. I believe that this 'have now pay later' mentality is extremely dangerous
Tom K, London
I'm worried that talented young people from low-income families will be put off by the impending debt at the end of their studies. My partner left school 15 years ago and could have studied archaeology, but he came from a poor family and decided to work to keep the family afloat. He now regrets the decision. Imagine now, if he decided to study. He's now a postman, but loves the National Geographic and History Channels. He is also a life member of the British Museum.
Claire, East Dulwich London
For those of you complaining that 3,000 is too much, take a look over the Atlantic to see how bad it is here. I graduated from Law School 5 years ago and my student debt is still in 6 figures. I would have loved to have paid just 3,000 a year.
AMD, NYC, USA
Personally I think that the tuition fees should be paid by the companies that employ graduates. That way degrees would only be required for jobs that really need them, and they would not simply be used as an IQ test by business.
Richard Read, London, UK
I finished uni nearly 3 years ago, and was one of the first year of students who paid fees. At the time, we all complained at how unfair it was. Lots of us got into ridiculous amounts of debt, and yet some of us (myself included) somehow managed not to. How did we do it? We got part-time jobs that fitted in around our studies, provided us with something useful to do during Christmas, Easter and summer vacations, and in some cases actually helped us to put our degrees into the sort of perspective that only real world experience can offer. Help needs to be there for those who need it most. Those who can afford to pay, however, should. The means testing has to be accurate though - and shouldn't assume that wealthy parents will always pay a student's way, as this isn't always the case. Although it would be interesting to work out how much the average student spends on beer, nights out, takeaways and video games, and for this to be taken into account!
Stu, Warwick, UK
Of course they should. Education after the age of 16 is a privilege not a right. Whilst it is quite right not to charge for education at school, even up to 18, higher education in the form of universities should not be free at the point of contact. What should be introduced are scholarships funded from outside industry (with tax incentives) for the really bright who cannot afford it, eg a petroleum company may fund a few chemical engineering places. They manage very well in the US and this has never stopped anyone from a poor background. In fact, with limited scholarships available it picks out the men from the boys by pushing people to their limits to achieve the best results they can. What seems to be forgotten is that university is also training for the big bad world. It may not be fair, but life never is.
Karen, London, UK
No, no, no. Students already have enough in loans to pay back as it is; by the time I graduate I will have £20,000 of loans as I did a 4 year course, and this is without top-up fees! I am lucky as I was a skilled worker before university and can earn a decent wage in the holidays, but most students I know are spending significant time away from study to work in shops, bars, and do security work because they need the money to get by. Some students miss a number of lectures each week because their working hours clash, how is England going to turn out good quality graduates when this is the case?
Everyone in society benefits from educated people, I heard someone on a radio bleat about "we have chosen not to have children, why should our taxes pay for other peoples children to go to university", so you don't use a doctor or a pharmacist then? You don't use medicines or chemical products or items with dyes in, the safety of which has been tested by educated people? You don't use plastics or electrical good, or computers all designed by those who have undergone study? I could go on and on and on. Education benefits us all, also when I graduate and get this supposed higher paid job (even though the UK seriously under-funds science, which I am studying) I will pay more tax! So there'll be fees, extra tax and the service I will make to society, the government will get a good deal out of me. There is no incentive to better yourself in England.
Before bemoaning the fact that many students will be left in debt after taking lengthy university courses, let us not forget that these young people have a choice whether to go to uni on a loan, take the seemingly obligatory 'gap' year or actually earning their own living by obtaining employment and funding their way through. In this current trend of have now, pay later, we're really not doing them any favours. And some of the subjects they take seem to be far removed from the job market on the whole.
Elaine, Letchworth Garden City UK
No student enters university for the benefit of the general population. Some wish to greatly improve their future earnings, while others see it as a good way to dodge work. High fees encourage the former to complete their studies to the best of their abilities thereby benefiting the country as a whole, while discouraging those who would put a huge drain on the resources of these institutions and make the experience less rewarding for the others. I would suggest offering a suitable rebate to those who complete their studies to the best of their abilities and ensure that those who fail to meet their potential, or drop out early, make up the difference. Reward hard workers, but not skivers!
Clive Loosley, Caythorpe, England
No. Education is supposed to be free in this country. Middle income families are going to be the ones in so much debt that they end up in the lower income spectrum. I have come up through Mr Brown's 'less well-off groups' and still ended up with student debts thanks to 'loans'. Let's stop making GCSEs and A levels so easy and then we wouldn't have so many people with straight A's applying to all these universities.
Charge students for popular courses, that should cut back on the glut of media studies graduates that are being churned out of our universities.
Bob, Basingstoke, UK
The students who should be made to pay are those who don't complete their course. I did a 5 year engineering course and of 80 who started only 14 graduated. The government should introduce a scheme whereby you borrow the funds for university on the understanding that if you graduate, the slate will be wiped clean. Those who aren't committed to further education will be left to foot the bill for their couple of years doing the "student experience" and those who are will contribute a lifetime of increased tax via their increased earning capability
Chris Smith, Glasgow, UK
Universities should charge what they need to provide the standard of course they want. That way students can look at the standard of teaching and the effect it is likely to have on their earnings and decide whether or not it is worth it.
No. This is an excellent way to generate a two-tier system of education. The prospect of huge debt is not appealing to low-income families - and we don't appreciate means tested handouts either to make us feel all "special", needy and poor.
Jeffrey Lake, London, UK
What I want to know is have university results improved or got worse since the introduction of student loans and the current level of fees? It's alright for people to say charge those that fail, but the reason they might be failing is that they have to work while they are studying to pay their way. Being at uni myself I can tell you that those who have strong financial support from their families usually get better marks, they spend term-times solely dedicated to study and don't need to work during the holidays. Those with jobs during term-time and full-time jobs through the holidays don't do so well (surprise, surprise), these people don't do it for fun, they do it because they have little or no financial backing. Should we then further penalise the poor by charging them if they have to drop out?
MPs have no idea what it's like to have a minus amount of money. I got a good degree, 2.1, and am earning £19k but its not worth the anxiety I'm feeling and I should have gone into management or something. The debt makes me regret going to uni.
Sarah Sterling, Cambridge
Why complain? Hopefully this will stop the large number of people who go to uni for the sake of it. I went to university with a specific career in mind which required me to study a specific subject - anyone who has been to university will know of the large number of students who only go to university because they don't know what they want to do. This has resulted in degree qualified students applying for and working in occupations that do not require a degree - hopefully the increased fees will stop these people from wasting three years of their lives whilst spending tax payers' money when they could have simply got the job in the first place and not be in financial strife.
I believe that university education should be available to everyone, not restricted, as it will be, to those who can afford it. However, I think that degrees are becoming undervalued and some courses don't appear to be worth much. Perhaps it would be better to have a more limited spectrum of degrees topics and have a higher calibre of student in them?
Morag, Greater Manchester
I think in cases of hardship all university fees should be free. Because of personal circumstances there was absolutely no way I could have put my daughter through university without the grants, etc which we were lucky enough to obtain. She has now gone on to gain a BSc and an MSc and is putting her education to good use in the NHS. What a waste of talent this would have been if she had missed the opportunity. I am sure there are hundreds of other youngster out there in exactly this position.
I have studied civil engineering in Plymouth for 4 years on effectively nothing. I have taken the maximum loan available to me, £3,500 in the first year and subsequently less over the years, down to £2,500, as my parents jointly earn over the £35,000 threshold and who have to support 2 younger children in the mean time. Out of this I have had to support myself through university and pay £1,000 a year tuition fees because my parents were in financial difficulties. I will leave university in May owing approx £20,000 - a great start in life. Something people don't realise is that I was living on between £3,500-2,500 over 9 months, how many adults could do that? None! And we get classed as tax dodgers - too right. I can't foresee myself being able to afford to buy a house back home within the next 5 years, even when I start my job on £26,000 a year. Raising tuition fees will only repel students from more socially deprived backgrounds from continuing to further education - the opposite of the governments objectives
Daniel Glover, Plymouth
How do they define low-income? I have 4 children, and am in a pretty well-paid job. I may not have a low income, but I certainly have high expenditure. So, should my children miss out on their education because they have more siblings than the norm?
Steve Tymms, Welwyn Garden City, UK
It's not in the slightest bit surprising that basically all UK universities are charging the same maximum rate, because they all need the cash. The concern is that longer courses such as medicine and engineering will suffer because students will go for the cheaper options. Without medics and engineers this country is in real difficulty. The government needs to subsidise topics which it sees as critical to the UK economy by capping the top-up fees at a lower rate for such subjects, as a way of enticing young people to take these topics.
Of course they shouldn't charge fees of any kind. If money is short then it's at least partly because too many people go to university today who are not suitable. We should accept that sending so many people to university is devaluing degrees and the trend needs to be reversed. A short-term solution would be to only charge people who drop out or fail, since they are using resources that could be used by more deserving students. Maybe that would make people consider going to university more carefully and make them work harder when they are there?
Dominic Tristram, Bath, UK
Having benefited from a fully-funded education at one of the UK's most expensive universities, I hardly feel qualified to say that others should pay for what I enjoyed for free. Would I have gone to university if I'd had to pay £3000 a year? Probably. But I suspect that many others would be put off by the fear of getting into so much debt, and I feel that we are letting these young people down. It isn't the very poorest that will suffer, but those whose parents earn just above the cut-off point.
I am going to university next year and the financial consequences are serious. I face a £30,000 debt when I leave and a huge strain will be placed on my parents for my living costs. Is this fair? To leave the youth of this country stricken with debt? It's not fair at all and will cause serious anxiety for many and will reduce the numbers of people going to university.
Michael Joslin, New Malden, UK
It's absurd to see some get bursaries just because they have had no member of their family going to university before. I'm a university student, already in £15,000 debt, trying to further my education by getting a PHD. I'm sure I will be making a difference in the future, but I just don't get the point why there's this idea that we should have a lot of university educated people? Wouldn't that result in further issues for the government in the future, when there will be millions of university students who are unemployed? The concept of max top-up fees is ridiculous, my dad is already considering getting a re-mortgage just to pay for my younger brothers education.
Chris Newby, London, UK