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Fog over fees … government cut off

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Fog over fees … government cut off

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has issued its Letter of Guidance to the Office for Fair Access concerning the access arrangements that Universities will need to have agreed with OFFA in order to charge above the £6000 norm.  

It is clear that the Government wishes most Universities to stay close to the £6000 fee, but, at present, there are no powers to ensure they will. Universities will need to submit their proposals to OFFA by April, with the latter’s decision made by July. It is unlikely that anything could be done to influence universities until after their performance has been assessed against the targets they set for themselves, which will be in several years time. Commentators continue to suggest that most universities will seek to charge close to the £9000 fee.   

The access agreements are not directed at scholarship provision, but at the recruitment of a higher proportion of state school candidates and those in receipt of free school meals. A Commons motion signed by 25 Tory MPs criticises Nick Clegg’s proposals that institutions should adapt admissions criteria in favour of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Simon Hughes, the Government ‘advocate for fair access to higher education’ has been silent (or silenced?).

Meanwhile the University of Cambridge has declared that it will charge £9000 (with Oxford expected to do the same)* and will offer £3000 fee waivers, but has failed to respond to internal criticisms that the increase in student fees to £6000, alongside the absence of a proper system of bursaries for living costs, constitutes the more significant disincentive. For the debate at Oxford, see here.

Oxford and Cambridge ‘sit pretty’ over access agreements. Given their status as first choice institutions within the UCAS system, any shift in their intake ratio of state-school to independent-school students will displace the latter onto the next choice universities, who will have difficulty in meeting their access agreements. Welcome, the rest of the Russell Group, to your brave new world of premium fees and access agreements.

*article amended in light of comment by Kate Tunstall below, 12/2/11.

  1. Kate Tunstall says:

    Oxford has yet to declare anything officially yet, see
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/feb/11/tuition-fees-higher-education
    For protest speeches, see also the texts on OpenDemocracy: The Oxford Debate

  2. Good points. One comment. Access agreements only partly about free school meals and poverty and class. Looser focus could loosen their impact.

  3. ‘Oxbridge Redivivus’

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