Minister backs moves for universities to raise tuition fees
A proposal to allow the best universities to raise tuition fees above the current £9,000 limit is needed because teaching must be funded on the "basis of quality as well as quantity", a minister has said.
Only higher education institutions deemed to have met the expectations of the Government's new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) will be allowed to increase fees in line with inflation.
Jo Johnson, the universities minister, said the move, formalised in the Higher Education and Research Bill, is necessary to properly incentivise high quality teaching.
But Labour MP and former university lecturer Rupa Huq raised concerns as she suggested the changes were being "rushed through".
Mr Johnson said during the Bill's report stage in the Commons: "This Bill will also give the Office for Students the power to operate the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
"Thirty years of the REF (Research Excellence Framework) and its predecessors have made the UK's research the envy of the world.
"But without an equivalent focus on excellence in teaching the incentives upon universities have become distorted."
Intervening, Ms Huq said: "You mentioned the TEF and the REF before it. Would you not agree with me that the REF took several years to bed down and become a sort of measure of research and the TEF there are lots of institutions who do feel that this has been rushed through, in particular the link between teaching excellence and fees.
"I have been emailed by University of West London who have asked me to strongly oppose that because also it's done on an institution by institution basis not like REF which was by departments and even courses can vary widely in quality.
"Would you not think again in relation to those points?"
Mr Johnson insisted the TEF had "not been rushed" and that the changes would be given a "significant period of time" to bed in.
He said: "The university sector has welcomed the link to fees.
"The UK has recognised there is a need for such a link, recognising that we need to fund on the basis of quality as well as quantity and there is no attempt by the sector to separate the link as you suggested."
The Government has previously said the ability to increase fees is necessary to ensure universities do not suffer a drop in funding.
The Higher Education and Research Bill aims to boost competition within the higher education sector and also proposes the creation of a new Office for Students (OFS) which will be in charge of regulation.