Six in ten universities charge £9,000 on some courses
The cap on university fees might have had the effect of raising the average price for undergraduate courses, a leading higher education professor has warned.
The maximum that universities can charge full-time degree students was controversially trebled to £9,000 last year, and since then many institutions have raised fees to impose this sum, or a fee close to it.
According to Jurgen Enders, professor of higher education at Southampton University, this is purely being fuelled by fears they will look cheap if they don't. There are concerns among institutions that charging less could affect their status, putting off potential students from wanting to go there.
Meanwhile the lack of a price ceiling on postgraduate courses could explain their comparatively modest price of £6,000 a year on average, he said. But if these were capped, universities might move towards the upper limit for the same reason as undergraduate courses.
The Coalition government’s controversial decision to increase fees sparked violent student demonstrations in London after the policy was announced in 2010. At the time, ministers countered concerns by saying most universities would charge more than £6,000 only in exceptional circumstances.
However, even before the hike was introduced, most universities indicated they intended to charge the maximum for at least one course.
Official figures show six in ten now charge £9,000 on some courses. From 2014, this will increase to three-quarters, while more than a quarter of institutions will demand top-level fees for all degrees.
Overall, annual fees will rise by about two per cent to an average £8,647 next year.
Discounts and bursaries available to students from poor backgrounds will reduce course costs to £8,425. But most undergraduates from middle-class backgrounds will have to pay the full amount.
Nick Barr, professor of public economics at the London School of Economics, said universities also felt able to charge high fees for degrees because undergraduates have access to loans.
According to some estimates, many students under the new fees regime will leave university after a three-year course with debts of £50,000 or more once living costs are taken into account.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "The new system has encouraged institutions to compete for students on the quality of the student experience – not just on price.
"We have ensured there is better information available for potential students than ever before so that there is the best possible fit between students and institutions."
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