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Lancaster University’s proposal to charge fees of £9000 a year to home undergraduates for all its courses from 2012 has been approved, as expected, by the Office For Fair Access (OFFA).
The announcement only confirms what has been widely expected since the University announced its intentions in March. Nationwide, over a third of institutions have been given the green light to charge the maximum amount across all degree schemes, whilst 58% will charge £9000 for at least one course.
No university has had its plans to charge the full amount rejected by OFFA.
LUSU President George Gardiner was unsurprised at the announcement, calling it “a confirmation of what we already presumed.”
To gain approval, the University had to justify its proposal by submitting an Access Agreement, which sets out how it will continue to offer fair opportunities to potential students from all backgrounds under the new fees regime.
The Access Agreement was produced collaboratively between the University and the Students’ Union. It emphasises Lancaster’s good record in attracting students from under-privileged backgrounds, and proposes that some of the income from increased fees be used to complement Lancaster’s allocation from the National Scholarship Programme (NSP).
The document predicts that around 600 new Lancaster students per year, from households with an annual income below £25,000, would benefit from a £3000 NSP award made in their first year. This money would be split between a fee waiver, an accommodation discount and a cash bursary.
Awards in successive years would then be used to encourage students to continue their courses. The University’s merit-based scholarship scheme, available to the best-performing students coming to Lancaster, will also be revised.
So many universities opting for the maximum fee level contradicts the Liberal Democrats Business Secretary Vince Cable’s promise earlier in the year that the notional cap of £6000 would only be breached in “exceptional circumstances.”
Liam Burns, the President of the National Union of Students (NUS), has said that developments since then have left Cable’s promise “in tatters.”
LUSU President Gardiner, however, does not consider that promise to have been realistic. “I think most people within the sector expected a lot of universities to charge £9000 for most courses, and that’s what’s happened,” he argued.
Gardiner was pragmatic about the high proportion of universities being allowed to charge £9000. “If they’ve all got robust Access Agreements like ours then they should charge those fees. I think the key thing is that it comes back to the quality of degree that they’re providing. It’s not about the cost, it’s about the value for money,” he said.
Gardiner is confident that Lancaster University and LUSU are in a good position to provide this student satisfaction, although he stressed the need to raise awareness. “We’re going to have to step up what we do as a Students’ Union and make sure people are aware of what we do,” he said.
“We’re already on a good track but we’ve got a lot more potential,” Gardiner added.