The Government has recently rushed through the Higher Education and Research Bill, meaning that Universities are able to increase tuition fees annually until 2020.
Initially, tuition fees were designed to increase based upon each university’s teaching standards, which, in itself, has been noted as controversial. The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is an optional initiative, allowing for institutions taking part in TEF Year One (TEF1) and TEF Year 2 (TEF2) to begin increasing their fees.
However, NUSU Education Officer Chris Duddy has noted that “all universities who took part in TEF1, and those that intend to take part in this year’s TEF2, have been guaranteed that they will “meet expectations” if they take part in the initiative. I personally do not see how a measure of excellence can be awarded automatically.”
Due to the controversy of the TEF, it is now under review, meaning that this part of the legislation has been delayed. Due to this, universities are able to hike up tuition fees annually based on inflation, regardless of tuition quality and standards, until 2020, when the TEF is introduced.
This comes merely weeks after an announcement stating that due to the UK triggering Article 50 and leaving the European Union, a rise in inflation could lead to interest on student loans rising to 6.1%, almost a third higher than prior to the EU referendum.
Under current rulings, graduates are to be charged interest on their loans using RPI – 3% of their annual earnings plus up to 3% depending on their earnings, meaning that a graduate earning under £21,000 will be on a lower interest rate of 3.1%, and those earning more than £41,000 will be on the full interest rate of 6.1%.
Fears had initially existed that this bill could lead to further privatisation of higher education, and a shift towards profit rather than education within current UK institutions, due to a section of legislation in which all institutions are granted these powers, rather than having to wait four years.
The bill has been amended thoroughly, however, and the Office for Students must request “advice” prior to awarding any institutions with the ability to grant degree certifications.
The General Secretary of the University and College Union, Sally Hunt, feels that the implementation of this legislation will “seriously risk damaging the global reputation of our universities.”
Hunt writes in a Huffington Post UK blog that this legislation “will simply become a box-ticking exercise on the way to achieving the high-stakes fee regime which the government desires.”
In spite of this, the President of Universities UK, Dame Julia Goodfellow, had a more positive slant on the implementation of the bill. Commenting that it could provide “stability at a time of great uncertainty”, the final bill had been “significantly improved” due to the engagement of MPs, peers and government officials.
In spite of this, student and academic populations are in uproar, with frequent use of the hashtag #HEBill alongside their comments to centralise their dissent.