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Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 11:33 GMT
Six Forum: University Fees
Paul Cottrell from the Association of University Teachers answered your questions in a LIVE forum.
Students will have to pay annual tuition fees of up to £3,000 a year under plans confirmed by the government.
Education Secretary Charles Clarke has told the Commons that universities will be free to increase tuition fees, currently pegged at £1,100 a year.
For the first time different universities will be able to charge different fees up to a cap of £3,000.
The government has already admitted students who go to university under the new arrangements could leave with debts of between £18,000 and £21,000.
However, students will no longer have to pay university fees up-front, as they do now.
Your questions were answered by Paul Cottrell from the Association of University Teachers in a forum for the BBC Six O'clock News, presented by Manisha Tank. .
Universities will be able to charge up to £3,000 a year for an undergraduate degree - that's three times the current maximum fee. Students who go to university under the new arrangements could leave with debts of between £18,000 and £21,000. But the payments will no longer be up-front, as they are now, instead students will be expected to pay off their debts after graduation.
So how will this affect the students themselves and what's behind the universities' need for extra cash? Joining me to answer your questions is Paul Cottrell from the Association of University Teachers. Paul, it's good to see you. We've had masses of e-mails and text messages on this subject and hardly surprising.
We'll start with an e-mail from Marc Wells, Liverpool: Who will decide how much Universities charge for the courses? When is it likely to take effect?
As for who will decide on the level of the fees, that will essentially be the universities themselves. They will have to make decisions about what sort of level of fee they feel they can charge and attract the students that they want to attract.
But I have to say that the Government today has also announced - and this was extremely welcome - additional funding for universities and that will help tremendously in filling the gap that universities will experience when they no longer get their fees up-front.
Although student numbers have trebled over the last 30 years, if you look at the proportion of students from a working-class background who enter higher education, it's hardly changed at all. So the additional places have really been taken up by better off students from better off backgrounds. So the Government is determined to get more poorer students in. The question is, how that ambition of the Government, fits with the decision to increase the level of tuition fees and I don't think we've really had a satisfactory answer to that yet from Ministers.
So I think the people it will affect are likely to be the poorer students. I'm still very concerned that the increase in tuition fees will act as a deterrent to many of those students going into higher education. But I think just from the reaction we've already had, it's clear that a lot of students and parents are very worried about that as well.
Tony Dixon, Northampton: Do you see this as the best way to improve levels of education in the UK and solve the skills shortage that UK businesses face today?
Now if we produce more graduates that undoubtedly would be welcomed by business. It will improve the skills that we have in our economy. We will have a better educated workforce generally and a better educated citizenry and that must be a good thing. But again I go back to the point I made earlier - will the increase in tuition fees encourage more people to go into higher education - it doesn't sound logical does it and that is the real concern.
So I think the Government is right in its ambitions. It's right about the value of higher education and its right about the need to get more people into higher education. But I do worry whether they've gone about it in the right way by introducing, as it were, a free market for tuition fees and taking the lid off the current restricted level of tuition fees.
When I went to university, I had a very good grant, I didn't pay any tuition fees and there was no financial disincentive for me to enter higher education. Now we're moving to a completely different approach where we're saying students must contribute and clearly it has to be introduced very gradually. I think we've already changed the culture to some extent, but I wonder whether we've changed it in the right way.
There is now a perception - a very widespread perception - that going to university is expensive, even though many poor students don't pay the fee at the moment because they're means-tested and it's decided that they can be let off paying the fees because they've found the income is very low. But that doesn't affect the perception that people have of going into higher education.
I think the news today will cause a lot of concern and indeed panic amongst students and potential future students and their parents because this idea that it's very expensive to go into higher education in this country will be increased and the fears will be increased.
So we can't suddenly change our culture from the UK one with a history we've had with our approach to state education - which is basically is that it should be free - the an American one where they've had years and years of accepting the idea that people will pay the bill - work their way through the college, they'll drop in an out of college as they go through their career. However, it isn't as simple as that. We need to be very careful - and it may be that the Government's already gone too far, too quickly and will already have caused a resistance to the idea of going into higher education amongst precisely those young people that we want to get into higher education.
Better customer service eh!
So I think the answer to the e-mailer is that we are on the case in universities. We are making improvements and if the funding is there, I'm sure those improvements will continue. Meanwhile, I think if students are not satisfied with the teaching they get, they should speak up, they should bring that to the attention of the university authorities. I would hope that our members of staff who teach the students will react to that positively and will accept positive criticism and will try and respond to students' needs - that's what they're there for and we must do that, regardless of whether students pay fees or not.
It also will matter in respect of another change which the Government have announced today and that is that they are going to restore an element of the old maintenance grant. That's to say the money that students are given to help them live and survive whilst they're studying, apart from the tuition fee and that will depend on parental income, whether students get that grant. That will come in September 2004 and the Government has set it at a limit of £1,000 per year and only for the very poorer students. So the only students that will get that £1,000 are those whose parents are earning £10,000 or less - so we talking really about the very poor students.
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