University of Exeter Students

Fees and the future

You may have heard in the news that the University is proposing to set fees at £9k a year for UK and EU undergraduates.

Student fees are nothing new (current students pay approximately £3k a year), so why has the University announced an increase?

The government has cut what amounts to 75% of teaching funding from the Higher Education budget over three years. In its place it has established a new framework for fees, transferring much of the cost of education to graduates.

For those in the UK, the public, political and media debate around the government’s decision has been a key feature of the last few months. However, the nature of some of these debates can mean complex issues are over-simplified, so it is worth reviewing a few points from the new arrangements:

•    Students will not have to pay up front
•    Universities charging over £6k need to prove investment in ‘widening participation’ and fair access
•    The government will lend money to cover tuition costs to any eligible student
•    Graduates will repay this loan only when they are earning above £21k
•    The repayment rate is 9% of salary above £21k
•    Debt will be forgiven after 30 years
•    It is estimated that approximately 70% of students will never pay off their whole fee.

The government intends to set up a new £150m National Scholarships Programme, targeting bright potential students from poor backgrounds. It will guarantee students benefits, such as a free first year or foundation year. There will also be non-repayable grants for students from families with incomes of up to £25,000, and partial grants for those from families with incomes up to £42,000. Maintenance loans will be available to all eligible full time students, irrespective of income.

Exeter proposes a  charge of £9k for all programmes, subject to approval of a new access agreement with OFFA (the Office for Fair Access). A number of leading universities, including Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial, have already indicated they expect to charge £9k.

The University believes that the government’s support arrangements, together with its own arrangements for fee waivers and bursaries, will provide much better support for students from poorer backgrounds than at present. The tuition fee repayment arrangements are also favourable for those students who do not go on to earn high incomes. In fact, a key part of the proposal, affecting students entering the University from September 2012, is a new package of fee waivers and bursaries to encourage more applications from less well off students – this will mean that the average tuition fee is below £9k.

Extra funds generated from higher tuition fees will be directed at further improving the student experience at Exeter, ensuring that students benefit directly from higher fees. The University is already working with the Students’ Guild to identify priorities for investing in the student experience. To this end, a new budget scrutiny committee has been set up to ensure students will be able to comment on spending priorities.

The University now has ongoing investments in student residences, teaching facilities and laboratories totalling £348m. In order to maintain these, and to invest to extend and improve them for the benefit of future students, it needs to make financial surpluses of 5-10% of revenue each year. In the absence of capital funding from Government, fees of £9k per year allow this, and help the University become self-sufficient.

The government has made its decision on how universities should be funded, and however we may feel about fees as individuals there is no chance of going back to old funding arrangements. Despite the challenges, Exeter is optimistic it can continue to prosper in the new environment. The University has a strong brand, low reliance on public funding and high entry tariffs (11th in the UK this year). It is now ranked among the top 200 universities in the world and students arriving in 2012 will benefit from new facilities worth over £300m. All cause for confidence.

The University’s decision in light of the government budget cuts was summed up by alumnus and University Council member Nicholas Bull (Chemistry 1973), “This is absolutely the right thing to do for the University and its future students. I see this as an encouraging move that should secure Exeter’s position as a leading university, providing a world-class education and experience to students regardless of their background or circumstances."

Information and help for students regarding fees can be found on the Government website for student finance

Date: 4 March 2011

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