Tuition fees

Tuition fees have never been higher on the nation's news agenda - but what are they? Why do you have to pay them? Our guide will help.

A brief history of university tuition fees

Where did fees come from? - You may have heard a number of old people (your parents, people on the news, teachers) mention - rather smugly - that they didn’t have to pay tuition fees in their day. No, they aren’t lying. In fact tuition fees are a relatively new idea. Introduced in 1998 by Tony Blair and New Labour (though in fairness the Tories were planning to as well - until they lost the election), university tuition fees were originally set at £1,000 per year, rising by the rate of inflation each year.

Who foots the bill? - As a result of their introduction there was understandably great controversy. While universities claimed they were desperately in need of extra funds, many argued that seeing as individuals who attend university benefit directly from having gained a degree they should have to fund it. The counter argument says that seeing as the biggest beneficiary of an educated population is the national economy itself, higher education should be funded by the government.

Fees trebled... - In 2006 the cap on university tuition fees was raised - meaning universities were allowed to decide how much they charged for a particular course up to a maximum of £3,000 per year. Since then this figure has risen each year with inflation.

Then raised to £9k - Then in autumn 2010 the Browne Review was published - a report into the future of higher education funding in the UK. The report recommended that universities should be able to charge students up to £9,000 per year. Despite much opposition from both students and professionals (aimed specifically at the Lib Dems, who before forming the coalition had pledged to scrap tuition fees if they were to be elected) the recommendations were accepted by MPs and will come into effect from academic year 2012/13.

University tuition fees 2011/12

Don’t worry - Although the new legislation has already been passed, it will not affect students that are starting university in 2011. These students will continue to pay the old fees of £3,375 per year.

University tuition fees 2012/13

Up to each uni - From 2012, new students will be charged the new, higher university tuition fee rates. How much your individual course will cost you is up to your university - to see how much your university plans to charge for tuition fees click here. While it was originally claimed that £9,000 was simply the maximum amount universities could charge and that very few would decide to go that high, it was recently announced that over a third of universities plan on charging the full amount.

Average of £8,393 - The average estimated annual tuition fee across all universities is £8,393 - though this figure does drop to £8,161 when fee waivers for poorer students are included.

Access agreements - When it was first announced that the cap would be raised to £9,000 the government said that any university wishing to charge above £6,000 per year would have to have an ‘access agreement’ approved by the government. Meaning that they must widen access to their university for poorer students.

Such as... - Details of these access agreements have now been released. Cambridge, for example, have set a goal of increasing the proportion of state-educated students to 61-63% within five years - at a cost of around £7 million.

How it affects loans - As very few students have a spare £9,000 per year at their disposal, tuition fee loans of up to this amount are now available. However under the new system the amount each graduate pays back each month will actually be reduced. At present graduates have to start repaying their loans after they have started earning £15,000 - when the new system comes in this will be raised to £21,000. More information on loan repayment under the new system can be found here.

Tuition fees in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales - The devolved governments are each responsible for deciding how much their students pay for university. At present the Scottish government plans to continue to pay tuition fees for all of their students, while in Wales and Northern Ireland the fees will probably be partly subsidised so that students continue to pay the same as they are now (or at least significantly less than English students will pay).

Will university be worth £9,000 a year?

Complaints are up - This year complaints against universities have risen by more than a third, and this figure is predicted to rise significantly once the tuition fees increase takes effect next year. The primary reason that students are complaining is that they feel they are not getting value for money from their course in terms of contact time with lecturers.

Making unis more accountable - To combat this the government plan to make universities more accountable to their students. They will be forced to publish information regarding contact time to prospective students as well as information about employment for graduates of each course. The intention of this move is to decrease the number of ‘dead end’ courses that exist in the UK - i.e. courses that, while popular, rarely lead to employment. Thus ensuring that students aren’t wasting money (a LOT of money) on courses that aren’t worth it. More information can be found on this here.

| Domicile of student | Studying in England | Studying in Wales | Studying in Scotland | Studying in NI || --- | :---: | :---: | :---: | :---: || England | Up to £9,000 | Up to £9,000 | Up to £9,000 | TBC || Wales | £3,465 | £3,465 | £3,465 | £3,465 || Scotland | Up to £9,000 | Up to £9,000 | TBC (but probably FREE) | TBC || Northern Ireland | Up to £9,000 | Up to £9,000 | Up to £9,000 | TBC |