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Government announces further plans for higher education reform

The government announced more plans for higher education reform, notably that fees could rise to £9,500 per year and that a new ranking system will be introduced to judge which universities are good enough to charge higher fees.

It was announced earlier this year that students starting in autumn 2017 could pay up to £9,250 per year in tuition fees. The Houses of Parliament are yet to approve any lift on the £9,000 cap, which was  raised in 2012 when fees were allowed to be trebled.

The government has stated the 2018 fees will be linked to teaching quality, with the changes to be accompanied by the implementation of a new three-tier ranking system of gold, silver and bronze.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said universities would be assessed on criteria such as student satisfaction, drop-out rates and graduate employment prospects.

Crucially, however, the plans include a statement that all courses beginning in autumn 2018 “will receive the full inflationary uplift”. The ranking criteria specifies that a bronze-ranking university would be of “satisfactory quality” but “significantly below the benchmark in one or more areas”.

Under the current timeline, a university in this category would be allowed to charge the same fees as those awarded the higher quality silver and gold rankings. With the BBC forecasting inflation in 2018 to be 3.2 per cent, this would mean all students starting in 2018 would be paying fees above £9,500.

The “teaching “excellence framework” is due to be set up next year and will decide which quality range a university falls into. Currently estimated to only be in its second trial year in 2018, from 2019 onwards tuition fees could be determined based on these rankings.

Although not yet approved in Parliament, the plans to lift the £9,000 cap from 2017 faced immediate backlash as some universities began advertising fees of £9,250 before this had even been announced by the government.

Already, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has called the continuing rise in fees “unacceptable”.

Minister of State for Universities and Science Jo Johnson, said of the plans: “The framework will 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”.

The Department of Education also commented that higher fees will ensure “students get value for money”, being designed to “put teaching quality and job prospects at the heart of higher education”.

11/10/2016

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