The government has today launched a review of university tuition fees and student funding. Due to be chaired by Lord Browne of Madingley, the review has been instructed to take into account the aim of widening university participation and simplifying support for students.
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Business Secretary Lord Mandelson insisted that "all who would be affected by any changes" would be consulted, stressing that the review would "examine the balance of contributions to universities by taxpayers, students, graduates and employers".
Current tuition fees stand at £3,225 per annum for students in England and Northern Ireland. When first introduced, many criticised the scheme saying that though the aim was to encourage more students to gain a university degree, those from poorer backgrounds would be excluded.
But Lord Mandelson said: "Variable tuition fees provide institutions with a secure income stream worth £1.3bn, helping to sustain the long-term financial health and viability of the sector. Since they were introduced student numbers have continued to rise, along with the numbers coming from lower-income backgrounds. This is an important piece of work which will require extensive consultation with all who would be affected by any changes, including current and potential students."
Student bodies, however, are warning that the review must not be a "stitch up". A survey carried out by the National Union of Students revealed little public sympathy for an increase in tuition fees.
NUS president, Wes Streeting said: "There is a real danger that this review will pave the way for higher fees and a market in prices that would see poorer students priced out of more prestigious universities and other students and universities consigned to the 'bargain basement'. This would be a disaster for UK higher education and must not be allowed to happen."
Tell us what you think. Are universities justified in increasing tuition fees, or will a rise simply price less fortunate students out of the market?