Elite Universities Lobby Others to Bear Brunt of Cuts

After discussion within the government regarding university funding, some Russell Group universities have suggested that more modern establishments should drop their fees, as they can afford to be on the receiving end of cuts as they have lower running costs.

During Theresa May’s speech at the Conservative party conference, she promised a major review of university fees, but since this there has been little clarification from the government about what this will entail.

Vice-chancellors are expecting that there will be a cut in the maximum fee, which currently stands at £9,250, which would result in a funding hole at many universities.

Not many involved in the university profession have come forward with their opinions on funding, but the topic has unsurprisingly divided views.

The vice-chancellor of one Russell Group university, who wished to remain anonymous, said to The Guardian: “Ministers never intended all the new universities to charge the maximum amount. There are some stark surpluses in post-1992 universities, as their costs are much lower. The elephant in the room is whether all institutions should charge the same fees.”

They also pointed out that, according the data from the Office For Fair Access, which regulates universities accessibility, Lincoln University has £800 more to spend on teaching per student than Oxford University.

In Oxford, after deducting bursaries and other support put in place for aiding underprivileged students, in 2018-19 the university will have an average of £7,915 left from each tuition fee, whereas Lincoln will have £8,732.

Another vice-chancellor, who also wished to remain anonymous, stated that: “At my university with fees at £9,250 we just break even for home students. But some vice-chancellors have admitted to me that teaching a student only costs them £5,000. At Oxford that is probably closer to £15,000. So you can’t generalise and say the whole sector should be getting less.”

He continued by suggesting that capping the fees at £9,250 will cost universities tens of millions of pounds, which would be particularly harmful to research-intensive institutions.

On the other hand, Professor Dominic Shellard, the vice-chancellor of De Montfort University, reacted angrily to the idea that Russell Group universities will suffer the most.

“The idea that modern universities are sitting on mountains of cash is a fallacy. Fifty per cent of the sector’s unrestricted reserves are in the hands of just 14 institutions and 13 of them are in the Russell Group,” he stated.

The vice-chancellor at Middlesex University, Tim Blackman, told the Times Higher Education that those who think modern universities have lower costs and could thus have their fees are “just misinformed”.

The director of the Higher Education Policy Institute think tank, Nick Hillman, is also against the idea that modern universities should take the brunt of cuts.

“I’ve been hearing arguments for differential fees, but universities should be careful what they wish for. It could have unintended consequences, such as politicians meddling in what subjects they deliver,” he said.

One idea that has been suggested is to base fees on the potential earnings of graduates, a figure that would vary massively depending on subject matter and the institution.

Despite conflict between universities, there is a shared fear that cuts in fees would reduce the money available to support individual students.

Polly Hatcher