By Ryan Gould
Tuition fees at universities across England are set to rise for the second time within a year, with fees expected to surpass £9,500 for students beginning their studies in autumn 2018.
The decision by the government follows a previous announcement earlier in the year that fees will increase to £9,250 in autumn 2017 in line with inflation for universities that “meet expectations” under the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
Durham University, along with the universities of Kent and Royal Holloway, already lists the £9,250 figure on its website for 2017/18 starters, despite the proposals having yet gone before Parliament to lift the current cap of £9,000.
The government has said that any increase in higher tuition fees will be linked to the quality of teaching.
However, the plans released last week suggest that the increase will apply regardless of a university’s standing in the quality banding system.
The Department of Education said that the tuition fee increases for 2018 will be a second “trial year” before a system with differentiated fees based on teaching quality — the Teaching Excellence Framework — is implemented.
“Universities will not be able to increase their fees unless they pass rigorous quality standards,” a Department for Education spokeswoman told the BBC.
“We have always been clear that as the framework develops it will become increasingly robust, with additional criteria, such as university’s retention and graduate employment rates, introduced into the judging process.”
The Department for Education says that the TEF will classify universities according to three categories — gold, silver, and bronze.
Yet the proposals state that for courses beginning in autumn 2018, “all those achieving a rating of bronze, silver, and gold will receive the full inflationary uplift.”
The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecasted inflation for 2018/19 at 3.2%, possibly pushing tuition fees above £9,500.
A gold standard university “achieves consistently outstanding outcomes for its students from all backgrounds, in particular with regards to retention and progression to highly skilled employment and further study.
“Optimum levels of contact time, including outstanding personalised provision secures the highest levels of engagement and active commitment to learning and study from students.”
Institutions classified in the bronze category will be of “satisfactory quality,” but they are “likely to be significantly below benchmark in one or more areas.”
Students would be “occasionally engaged with developments from the forefront of research, scholarship or practice, and are occasionally involved in these activities.”
Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, said: “By setting out clear incentives for universities, the framework will drive up quality in the sector at the same time as improving student choice and crucially, graduate outcomes — so that we can be confident we have the skills employers need now and for the future.
“The framework will also give students clear, understandable information about where the best teaching is on offer and for the first time, place teaching quality on a par with research at our universities.”
“It is too early to comment on the reported fee increases across the sector,” a spokesperson for Durham University told Palatinate. “We await more information on the TEF and its implications.”
The news comes after Durham fell in this year’s publication of the two most respected world university rankings.
In the QS World University Rankings, Durham fell by 13 places to 74th. In the THE World University Rankings, Durham dropped 26 places to 96th.
Photograph: Durham University