Tuition fees - are they really going up?

3 mins
26 Aug 2022
Tuition fees - are they really going up?

Vice-chancellors of several UK universities have been quoted in an article calling for university fee changes

words Megan Wallace

We’re currently living through some unprecedented times (to borrow some lockdown-era buzzwords) when it comes to the economic climate. Inflation is soaring, cost of living is going up alongside it and, come winter, we’ll be facing some truly obscene energy bills as today sees the official announcement that the energy cap will be raised by 80%. Grim!

To add insult to injury, just weeks after announcing ineffectual cuts to student loan interest rates, you may well have started to hear murmurings that university tuition fees are about to rise substantially for UK students, even to potentially meet the £24,000 yearly fees paid by international students at British universities. But how true is this really? And where did the rumours even come from?

Well, much of the talk seems to have originated from an article run on the first page of The Sunday Times last weekend. Titled “Universities push for ‘vital’ tuition fee rise”, it includes quotes from several university vice-chancellors which suggest that the current freeze on tuition fees (which have been capped at £9,250 for the past ten years) is leading them to recruit more international students, at the expense of home students, who are purportedly facing higher levels of rejection from “top” institutions like Oxbridge and highly sought-after courses such as medicine.

Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor at the University of Sunderland spoke to the newspaper to express his belief that fees should rise in future. “You cannot expect to run universities on a fee level of £9,250 a year, which by 2025 will be worth around £6,000 in real terms because of inflation,” he said. “If you want to keep running universities even at the level we have now, you have to increase the tuition fee at some point.”

Whatever is going on in admissions offices behind the scenes, we should certainly be sceptical about buying into narratives that international students are taking away opportunities from students in the UK, or that students from overseas are not as deserving of places at British universities than their domestic counterparts. Such lines of argument overlook the individual talents and skills of students from outside of the UK, as well as having more than a slight undertone of xenophobia. Pitting domestic students against international ones does nothing to improve the lives of students and would, if you think about it, just serve as a convenient distraction tactic if fees were to rise. But how likely is an increase in tuition fees, really?

At present, there is no indication from the government that fees are set to increase in line with inflation or to match what is currently paid by overseas students. After Woo reached out over email, a spokesperson for the Department for Education confirmed the government’s commitment to keeping fees capped at £9250 per year, saying; “The student finance system must be fair for students, universities, and the taxpayer, especially in light of inflationary pressures, and it is right that we have frozen tuition fees to reduce the burden of debt on graduates."

While, clearly, more needs to be done to support the further education sector, funding has already been put aside to help with costs. “To support universities, we’re providing £750 million extra funding over the next three years, and increasing funding for universities to deliver high-cost subjects to £817 million,” the spokesperson added.

So it looks like, at least for the time-being, we've got one less thing to worry about...

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