On Friday March 25, Lancaster University Council voted to set the University’s fee level at £9000 for home undergraduate students.
The fee level will come into place for the 2012/13 academic year. University Council is made up of trustees of the University. It includes senior members of staff as well as local stakeholders.
Lancaster is now the latest in an increasingly long line of universities to say they will be charging the maximum amount of £9000 in tuition fees. This sets them on par with other institutions at the higher reaches of the league tables.
It is a move that has long been suspected. Given Lancaster’s standing and growing reputation on the national and global stage, the likelihood of it charging the maximum level of fees has always been high.
The prospect has drawn opposition though. A number of autonomous student groups on campus have campaigned for Lancaster not to charge the £9000 maximum.
Lancaster University Students’ Union recently formalised its position on fees in light of the rumoured increase. LUSU’s position was that “fees at Lancaster University, given the unwelcome funding environment, should be at least £7,500 to cover its funding gap”.
LUSU President Robbie Pickles was reported to have said in that in regards to the short term policy “we [LUSU] need to pragmatic and be sure to create the best deal for students in the short term who, whether we like it or not, will have to pay increased fees.”
He expressed that he will always be willing to “fight for improvements to the Higher Education system” in order to make the University admissions process “fairer to all.”
In order for LUSU to support the decision of University Council to charge £9000, Pickles said: “We would need to be utterly convinced that the University would be committed to providing the best possible academic experience available and that students were confident they were receiving value for money.”
He also feels that Lancaster “realistically has three options” due to the limits set by the government controlling how funding can be raised.
Lancaster could “either charge £6,000 and reduce its funding per student by £1,500 or charge a higher value” going on to explain that “in order to charge higher, Lancaster has to meet certain widening access measures which would mean it must, in fact, charge a higher value of £8,000 to maintain its current level” and “any addition rise over this would be new money for the University.”
However, Pickles and LUSU are keen to “continue to work with students, the NUS and the Government to seek new alternatives which mean that, in the long term, students will never again have to face such unnecessary high levels of debt”.
The continuing attention on tuition fees is splitting the student body.
Second year student, Grace Fitzpatrick, believes: “The question is no longer whether the fees should be £9000 but what are we going to do to change our university to suit a £9000 environment?”
She thinks that the University will need to consider the price of “amenities such as the purple card, gym membership, printing, and parking for example” and will have “to be realistic about what a £9000 student will expect from university”.
On the contrary, first year student Xantha Leatham, who is a UK citizen but lives in Hong Kong, does not “think Lancaster should charge extra tuition fees because it severely limits the amount of people who can afford to come here”.
She believes that “the amount of actual contact hours we have a week are probably worth just about the amount we are paying now, and if the fees rise then the number of people who apply to Lancaster will most likely decline, and the number of people applying to more reasonably-priced universities will increase”.
Leatham also believes that with the lack of graduate jobs available, some students may be more tempted to get a job “straight after school” in order to avoid the inevitable “massive” debts that they would have when leaving university. She added: “For international students, who already have to pay much higher tuition fees, the prices would be extortionate, and Lancaster’s reputation as an international university might be affected if the number of foreign students decrease due to further increases in price.”
According to the Guardian, while many universities such as Exeter, Cambridge, and Imperial College London will be deciding to charge the maximum fees, some could be charged fines if they “impose unreasonable tuition fees next year”.
They have also stated that if a university wishes to charge above the minimum of £6000 they will have “to do more to widen participation of disadvantaged students.”
Business secretary, Vince Cable, has urged universities to keep their fees down as pursuing an “aggressive policy” could “destroy their own student base” and result in the university being “very badly hurt” as well.
Clegg was reported in the Guardian as saying that he “cannot think of anything more absurd than a university saying, to prove that they can offer a good education, they can whack up the price to £9000. They are not Harrods”.