By Sophie Gregory
Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond is reportedly considering capping annual tuition fees at £7,500 instead of the current level of £9,250, in a move that would save students on three-year courses just over £5,000.
A report in the most recent edition of the Sunday Times also suggests that there may be different fee levels for different courses, either related to the nature of the course or its graduate employment prospects.
Given the large numbers of 18-25 year olds voting in the last election for the Labour Party, who pledged to abolish fees, the plans could be seen as an attempt by the Conservatives to strengthen their support base amongst the young.
With concerns growing around student debt and the wages of Vice-Chancellors across the country, the government has come under increased pressure to make changes to the fees associated with higher education.
The Sunday Times notes the proposals are likely to appear in this year’s Autumn Budget, adding that to protect science and technology courses the government plans to “top up the £7,500 fee with a £1,500 annual payment to universities for each science student”.
Labour have however criticised the plans, with Angela Rayner, the Shadow Education Secretary, arguing: “The Chancellor’s reported proposals don’t help many who most need support – that is why Labour will bring back maintenance grants for disadvantaged students as well as abolishing tuition fees entirely.”
Shakira Martin, President of the National Union of Students (NUS), also expressed frustration with the policies.
Ms Martin said: “We welcome commitments from any political party – not least the Government – to rethink the failed experiment that is the current £9,000 tuition fees system.
“While reducing tuition fees would represent a step in the right direction, the Government is not going far enough.
“There has been no commitment to bringing back maintenance grants which would support the poorest students through their study. We also hold strong reservations about creating differential tiers of tuition fees which wrongfully imply a gulf of difference between institutions based on flawed metrics of quality.”
The revelation of these new government plans comes at the end of a summer in which the future of tuition fees frequently rose to the top of the agenda, with various contradictory claims from both sides of the parliamentary aisle.
Photograph: Durham University