New university ranking system to drive up fees

The government has signalled that it is preparing to abolish the £9000 cap on tuition fees, allowing them to rise with inflation. An increase of £250 is expected for students applying for 2017 entry.

This increase has been linked to a new university ranking system set to be trialed over the next two years. Under the new framework universities are to be ranked bronze, silver or gold depending on the quality of the teaching they provide.

The projected 3.2% rate of inflation for the next two years suggests that fees will rise to £9500. All universities will be able to increase their fees to match inflation until 2018, but after that different universities may be allowed to charge different amounts depending on their classification.

The government insists that the new framework will allow students to make more informed decisions, but a uniform rise in fees may disproportionately affect students from less privileged backgrounds.

The new rankings will be assessed by an independent panel and will be based on statistics like dropout rates, graduate employment rates and student satisfaction.

Universities minister Jo Johnson defended the plans stating that “The framework will drive up quality in the sector…[and] give students clear, understandable information about where the best teaching is on offer”.

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, who voted against a rise in tuition fees in 2010, has voiced his opposition to the further increase, condemning “fees that creep up year on year”. “Where does it end? It’s unacceptable”.

Less than a year after the student grant was scrapped, this further increase signals another rise in the cost of attending university, with fees possibly reaching £10,000 by the end of the decade.

2015 was the first year there was a decrease in the number of new students from working class backgrounds applying for university. Further increases in fees could see this worrying trend continue as the financial burden discourages poorer students.

The details and effects of the new ranking framework won’t become apparent for years to come.

To the government it represents a competition based method of driving up standards, for its detractors it’s a controversial marketisation of the higher education system aligned with an unwelcome rise in tuition fees. Either way, the true shape of the changes won’t be known until 2018 at the earliest.

Ian White

(Image: National Geological Survey)

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