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Last Updated: Friday, 3 December, 2004, 16:15 GMT
University votes on bargain fees
NUS demo against top-up fees, October 2003
Campaigners against top-ups warned they would bring a two-tier system
A few universities might offer cut-price courses in an effort to woo students when top-up fees are brought in.

From 2006, universities in England will be free to increase annual tuition fees up to a maximum of 3,000.

Surveys have suggested most universities will charge this top rate, but as plans are finalised, it appears there could be more of a market in degrees.

The vice-chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University Simon Lee is in favour of charging lower fees across the board.

He is the first chief executive of a university to publicise such a proposal.

It is his preferred option among three plans on fees which he has put to his university's governing body.

The body - which is made up of senior academics, student representatives and members of the community - will vote on the proposals later this month.

However Professor Lee, who opposed the introduction of top-up fees, is not confident his main proposal will get approval.

"It will be a brave set of governors who are prepared to stand out from the crowd around the maximum notional fee and I must prepare to lose as graciously as possible," he said.

Flexibility

Universities are finalising their proposals on fees and student support schemes such as bursaries and a clearer picture should emerge of their intentions once these have been approved by their governing bodies.

The Time Higher Education Supplement (THES) reports that Bradford University also intends to put a proposal about charging lower fees to its governing body this month.

The university would not comment on the claim itself, but its deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Jeff Lucas, said: "The University of Bradford has expressed its profound concern that the front page claim in the THES lacked any factual evidence."

Each institution should be free to set their own level of fee for each course
Universities UK
Universities have to submit their plans to Offa - the Office for Fair Access - in the next few months. And universities have to prepare their prospectuses for the 2006 intake early next year.

It had been expected that most would want to charge the highest levels of fees to attract maximum funds.

But the body which represents vice-chancellors - Universities UK - says the idea of variable fees was always central to the proposals it supported.

A spokesperson said: "Universities UK backs the concept of variable fees on the basis that each institution should be free to set their own level of fee for each course.

"This allows universities greater flexibility to respond to student demand."

Professor Mike Thorne, the vice-chancellor of the University of East London, believes most universities will be forced to charge the maximum amount.

"The vast majority of institutions will charge the maximum allowed, because we all need the money," he told BBC News Online.

"I doubt there will be more than a handful of universities which charge lower fees.

"It's much more expensive to run a university in London. All our costs are higher. But what we will be doing is to have an exciting set of bursaries because we are dealing with a group of students who come from backgrounds where they are not well-off."

Two-tier

Opponents of the introduction of top-up fees often warned they might lead to a two-tier system, where poorer students might be forced to choose courses according to their price, and therefore be excluded from the elite universities.

The government insisted that because fees would no longer be paid up-front, but after graduation, this would not be the case, and that there would be extra financial help for poorer students with the return of the maintenance grant and bursary schemes run by individual universities.

To qualify to raise fees higher than the present level of 1,250, universities have to submit what is known as an access agreement to the Office for Fair Access (Offa).

Offa says the agreement will include "the fee limits an institution intends to set, the measures it intends to take to safeguard and maintain fair access, and the milestones it will set itself around fair access".

The safeguards will include bursary schemes for poorer students.

Universities have until March to submit their plans to Offa, although they are being encouraged to do so by 4 January.

Variable fees will not be introduced in Wales in 2006. The Welsh Assembly government set up a review - known as the Rees Commission - to consider university funding and fees in Wales.

The commission will make its recommendations in February.


SEE ALSO:
Offa opens its doors to controversy
13 Nov 04 |  Education
Universities 'plan full fees'
21 Sep 04 |  Education
University chiefs ponder fees dilemma
29 Jan 03 |  Higher education


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