> Will fee increases deter some students?
> UWE puts in place restructured bursary system to help less affluent cope with fee hike.

WesternEye has evidence that UWE is almost certainly going to raise its tuition fees to the maximum £9,000 a year threshold from 2012/13 onwards.
The fees will apply to all full-time UK and EU students and UWE intends to increase incrementally year upon year in line with inflation.

Putting the price tag of a three year degree at a sizeable £27,000, the cost of higher education in the UK is now comparable with that of the United States.
The new maximum fee cap has raised questions over whether students from less affluent backgrounds will be put off going to university.

Despite the massive leap in the base cost of education at UWE, measures are apparently being taken to ensure that students from “Low Participation Neighbourhoods” are not marginalised by the rise.

Government guidelines state that universities must funnel £1 in every £9 taken in fees back into funding for low-participation, or ‘priority’, groups. This equates to £1000 in support for a less affluent student, for each one who pays the full amount.

Groups being specifically targeted for greater inclusion by UWE include: Students from Black and Minority Ethnic groups; disabled students; students from groups that are underrepresented in the professions (law, medicine etc).

A bursary system will still exist at UWE to assist less well off students, allocated on a sliding scale of individual requirement as it is now.

Although, according to the UWE website, exact figures have not been released yet, WesternEye has seen evidence that students will receive up to £1000 in their first year, plus up to £2000 in vouchers which can be exchanged for accommodation, laptops and other ancillaries. Second and third year students will receive an additional £1000 each year.

It has been suggested that UWE has “used bursaries as marketing tools” in the past, as a way of attracting students from less affluent backgrounds.
Despite the significant rise in tuition fees, it seems as if more people than ever, from a more diverse socio-economic backgrounds will be attending English universities. Or does it?

The number of people that will be able to pay their fees up front can only be smaller than the number that were able to pay the previous fee of £3,250 per year. This means one thing; greater front-end borrowing from the state.

An article in The Guardian on 20th April stated that “The Treasury is faced with a funding black hole because the initial cost of students’ fees is borne by the government.”

This figure is exacerbated by the predicted loan default rate of 30%, meaning that just under a third of fee loans will never be recovered by the state.
Given that the Treasury’s coffers are infamously depleted at the moment, the impact of an elevated level of student borrowing could only be offset in a finite number of ways.

Increasing the national debt through borrowing until the system becomes more economically viable, or decreasing the number of university places, as suggested by the Labour opposition in The Guardian on 19th April.

“Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour party, warned that at least 10% of university places for undergraduates would have to be cut to fund the coalition’s ‘unravelling’ tuition fee reforms. This is the equivalent of removing 36,000 full-time places each year.”

This paints a slightly less rosy picture than some would have the fee hike naysayers believe.

Yet another way to side-step the public spending issue, as suggested by Universities minister, David Willetts, would be to allow those who can afford to, to simply buy their place at university. Much in the same way that international students do.

Given that the non-subsidised annual fee for international students can be anything up to £26,500 (Oxford medical degree, years three to six), the wealthy will be able to simply buy their way into a more prestigious institution and by association a higher bracket of earning upon graduation.

Is this the face of an evolving level of social inclusion and mobility that we have heard so much about of late?

Mr Willetts has alleged that more people paying full and unsubsidised fees would mean a greater surplus of cash to aid those from a less affluent background to go to university.

Indeed, postgraduate courses have long had the option to accept privately funded students onto PhDs, who would otherwise have failed to qualify for state-sponsored research.

Accusations of ‘cash-for-qualifications’ have been met with suggestions that the applicant must still complete his or her body of work to a certain standard.
But if others are unable to afford even an attempt at this, does this not equate to poorer students being held to more rigorous academic standards before their studies have even begun?

Whether Mr Willetts higher education economic model will translate to a reality is a subject of some contention and therefore a model that his Liberal Democrat colleagues will take some convincing of.

The idea smacks of doors opening to the affluent and privileged, yet may well hold the answers to the question of how to fund poorer students.
Harvard University in the United States charges a whopping $38,000 (£23,000) per year, yet uses some of its surplus to offer generous bursaries and scholarships to its less wealthy applicants.

The new salary threshold and rate of loan repayment for English universities, of 9% of anything earned over £21,000, is an improvement on the previous rate set by Labour at the time of the last fee rise. But has done little to stem the tide of criticism of what was labelled by The Economist as an
“Unseemly scramble by most English universities to raise annual tuition fees to the maximum level permitted by the state.”

If claims by Mr Miliband regarding a reduction in places are to be believed, then one could surmise that it will be students from lower performing schools and colleges, in less affluent areas that are squeezed out first.

UWE’s high level of inclusion for UK students may yet be marred by a national reduction in university places.

Sam Butler