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Following the announcement on December 9 2010 that tuition fees will be increasing to between £6,000 and £9,000 per year, Lancaster University has filed its interest in setting the fees at the maximum threshold of £9,000. A meeting to be held by the Finance Committee on Friday, Week Five will ascertain whether Lancaster has the capability to ensure poorer students will still choose to attend Lancaster. In doing so, Lancaster will be able to set the fees at the maximum.
In pursuit of Lancaster’s aims to remain the top university in the North-West, top ten in the country and top 100 in the world, there are strains to follow top institutions Oxford and Cambridge University in placing the fees at the top end of the threshold.
In contrast to recently angering many students with his sudden support of the rise in tuition fees, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that universities who wanted to charge more than the minimum £6,000 would have to improve access for poor students unable to afford higher fees. “There is a social crisis in this country – a crisis of opportunity. Universities, the gateway to the professions, are too often acting to inadvertently narrow opportunities, rather than widen them”, he said.
NUS President Aaron Porter expressed anger at this sudden turnaround, saying that it was idealistic to assume that this would make him a “champion for students”. He added, “warm words do not cover the fact that a toothless regulator and a paltry scholarship scheme will do little to offset the impact of vastly reduced investment and trebled tuition fees”.
Currently, universities have the overarching ability to decide how much their institution charges. In a recent interview however, Clegg stated that when it comes to deciding the amounts universities charge, “it is not up to them” and that they can only make these decisions having proven that they “can dramatically increase the number of people from poorer and disadvantaged backgrounds who presently aren’t going to Oxford and Cambridge”. He went on to say “I believe our reforms will…make the university system fairer”.
Lancaster University Vice Chancellor Paul Wellings who is also the Chairman of the 1994 group which supports research-based institutions, stated that “Laying down crude targets will do nothing to aid social mobility” and that the decision to charge at the higher end of the threshold should not merely be based around the number of poorer students attending that university.
According to the BBC “at the moment just over 7% of pupils in England go to private schools (more attend in sixth form) but they make up about half of those at Oxford and Cambridge”. Therefore, a large number of students who wish to attend Oxford and Cambridge are able to afford the higher fees, making it unfair for other institutions to charge the same. However, the BBC stated that “Oxford University says it needs to charge fees of at least £8,000 to replace university budget cuts”.
Lancaster is not the only university who aims to follow Oxbridge’s lead in charging the higher amount. Porter has expressed his concern that most institutions in England will charge the maximum annual tuition fees.