Welsh government encourage universities to drop fees

Following the decision of Britain’s coalition government last year to increase tuition fees to £9,000, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (Hefcw)  is now encouraging Welsh universities to drop their tuition fees.

To date the University of Glamorgan, Trinity St David, Cardiff Metropolitan, Newport and Swansea Metropolitan have come forward to state that they will be lowering their tuition fees to £7,500 per year.

This follows Hefcw’s new scheme which rewards the institutions that choose to lower their fees to £7,500 or below from 2013-14 onwards. As the funding council decides how many full-time first year undergraduate student places are awarded to each university in Wales for the 2013-14 academic year, universities will receive more places if they opt to decrease their tuition fees. They will also receive extra places if they meet important Welsh government targets on research and overseas recruitment.

Aberystwyth, however, has made clear that they will continue to charge £9,000 per year.  Vice Chancellor Professor April McMahon issued a statement saying “that in order to protect the quality of our provision and to enable us to continue to invest in the initiatives to widen access and enhance the student experience, to which we are committed in our published fee plan, we would not be able to reduce our fee to £7,500.“ Due to not adopting this procedure Aberystwyth University will potentially lose 513 places compared to 2012. It will of course still generate income from the higher tuition fees.

The University of Wales Newport said that despite opting to drop its fees to an average of £7,500, it would still potentially lose more than 300 places under Hefcw’s plans. A University of Wales Newport spokesperson said: “We are deeply disappointed that despite our constructive approach where we offered to work with Hefcw to overcome what we believed was an unintended consequence of their plans, they are forcing through a cut of 20% in full time student numbers in Gwent.”

Along with Aberystwyth Uni, Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor Universitieshave opted not to drop their fees from the maximum £9,000. Professor Sir Deian Hopkin of the University of East London stated that “there is a real issue about the £9,000 figure. That was the upper limit that the English government wanted to allow universities to charge and they would have to give some money back to students. The expectation of course would be that no one would of course want to go up to £9,000, well we now know that virtually everyone wants to go up to £9,000 because of course there is a psychology here. With the danger that somebody might think it’s a cheaper degree.”

It has been suggested that differing levels of fees will create a divide between universities. For Wales this could now mean that Aberystwyth, Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor are seen as the most prestigious Welsh universities. Meanwhile Glamorgan, Trinity St David, Cardiff Metropolitan, Newport and Swansea Metropolitan could be perceived as a cheap place to receive a degree.