New higher education reforms could see university tuition fees in the UK cut from £9,250 to £6,500.
With at least three UK universities already reportedly on the verge of bankruptcy, the new plans are sure to draw the anger of vice-chancellors and higher education experts.
The move could leave universities with a third less income from fees and is also expected to cost the Treasury around £3 billion a year.
The proposal to cut fees comes from a commission that was established by Prime Minister Theresa May (file photo)
It could even lead to a cap on student numbers – an issue that is already affecting institutions in the UK.
Earlier this week, experts warned that at least three universities are on the brink of going bust with growing numbers dependent on short-term loans ‘just to survive’.
They said falling numbers of 18-year-olds, increased competition for students and tighter immigration controls on foreign students are pushing universities closer to collapse.
The cut to tuition fees is expected to be slammed by universities who, according to the Times, will argue that it would threaten social mobility and force struggling institutions to close.
The proposal is believed to have been inspired by Theresa May’s drive to appeal to younger voters.
Many in Whitehall believe that the Prime Minister is aiming for the youth vote and has even been encouraged by some senior MPs to limit the numbers of students going to university.
Philip Augar, a former equities broker, led the review, which is due to report to the Department for Education in January.
The proposal comes after the PM came under pressure when Jeremy Corbyn pledged to abolish tuition fees entirely (file photo)
It was first commissioned in January this year.
The first draft, which calls on tuition fees being cut to between £6,500 and £7,500, have been blasted as naive by one senior figure.
The commission intends for the loss of funds for universities to be made up by the Treasury.
Vice-chancellors think that universities then will face even more cuts as they fight for funding alongside schools, defence, health and crime.
According to the Times, one said that universities feared the worst ‘if it became a choice between dying babies and medieval French’.
However, University vice-chancellors have hit out at the plans and say that it could cause universities to close (file photo)
Some also believe the cuts would be a backward step and force universities to rely on government funds.
They also claim that the decision would hit poorer students hardest as many disadvantaged students do not currently pay back their full debt.
Currently, universities also spend tuition-fee income on bursaries.
The present tuition fee income of £9.5 billion is forecast to rise to £14 billion by 2024 because of high student numbers.
A senior figure in the university sector reportedly said that the Augar review was testing ideas and that informal conversations were being held to gauge reaction in the government before views were sought at universities.
Earlier this week, experts warned that at least three struggling UK universities were on the verge of bankruptcy (file photo)
The source said: ‘I’d be really surprised if what we’re seeing is the final recommendation. The thing about tuition fees is that all the alternatives are worse.’
According to the government, Tony Blair’s 1999 promise that almost half of young people should go to university by the age of 30 was fulfilled earlier this year.
Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group of leading universities, said: ‘Reducing funding for teaching would impact directly on the student experience, leading to higher student-to-staff ratios, less hands-on lab and practical work and student services stretched past breaking point.
He also said that the government would need to introduce new teaching grants to meet future demand.
Alistair Jarvis, the chief executive of Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, said that the cuts would leave a ‘serious funding gap’.
He also says the government must find funding alternatives or face returning to a time where university places were capped and many courses were underfunded.
According to the government, Tony Blair’s 1999 promise that almost half of young people should go to university by the age of 30 was fulfilled earlier this year (file photo)
Despite the proposal of funding cuts, most experts believe that the review will recommend that fees vary depending on courses.
The Department for Education said that it would not be drawn on speculation about the Augar review.
A spokesman said: ‘People are rightly concerned about value for money, that’s why we’re reforming the system to make it fairer. We have already increased the repayment threshold for graduates and are open-minded in our approach.’
Meanwhile, students from the EU, who pay the same £9,250-a-year fees as those in England or £9,000 in Wales, could face higher fees under a new system if they were charged the same as international undergraduates.
These fees could range from £9,000 to more than £35,000 a year, depending on the course and the university.