Page last updated at 18:12 GMT, Thursday, 28 January 2010

Universities tell funding review of fees benefits

female student
Students in England pay tuition fees of just over 3,000 a year

University heads have told an inquiry into tuition fees that the introduction of the charges in England has helped universities and students alike.

Vice-chancellors' group Universities UK told the first hearings of a review of fees that they had brought financial sustainability to universities.

It published a report on fees to coincide with the first public hearings of the review by Lord Browne.

Students' leaders are warning that fees could lead to a two-tier system.

The report from UUK said the £1.3bn universities had received from top up fees of just £3,000 per year had been used to improve facilities, invest in staffing and support students.

The report, based on a survey of 62% of English universities, says: "A common message is that the additional investment from fees has made a real difference to the financial sustainability of universities, allowing them to invest for the long term, reverse backlogs in maintenance, improve environmental performance, and go some way towards meeting rising student expectations."

"Institutions tell us that the new income from fees has speeded up developments or pan-university initiatives that would otherwise have taken longer, or been delivered piecemeal."

Universities had been given "financial headroom" to operate more efficiently and plan better for the benefit of students because of the fees and government investment, the report said.

And it concludes that the introduction of fees had not had a negative effect on the numbers of state school pupils and students from poorer backgrounds going to university.

This was one of the main fears voiced by MPs who fought the introduction of variable tuition fees in 2006.

Professor Steve Smith, President of Universities UK, said: "The report highlights what students in England have begun to get in return for their money up to this point.

"It is an encouraging picture - better facilities, more teaching staff, better support, advice and space for learning and socialising. These benefits are now being felt by current students and staff and as well as by universities' wider communities and the economy."

Students

The National Union of Students was also giving evidence to the Browne Review.

Its president, Wes Streeting, said: "Universities must be clear about where the massive investment they have enjoyed from students' pockets has gone.

"Whilst fees have nearly trebled, overall student satisfaction has increased by just 1%. Students cannot be expected to pay more for less.

"We believe allowing different institutions to charge different fees risks providing an elite system for the few who can afford it and a second-class experience for the many who cannot."

Lord Browne's review hearings will continue on Friday. His report is not due until after the General Election.



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