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09/02/11 – University access agreements to deprive institutions of funds

From UCU website 9 February 2011

Ahead of tomorrow’s expected announcement of how university access agreements will work, UCU has warned that every single English institution with undergraduates will have to charge more than £6,000 fees just to plug the funding gap created by huge cuts to teaching budgets.

The average fee will need to be £6,863.
When pushing hard to persuade Liberal Democrat MPs to break their pre-election pledge to vote against any rise in fees, coalition ministers made much of the fact that any institution wishing to charge more than £6,000 a year would need to agree an ‘access agreement’ with the university access regulator OFFA. The government said that any institution that breaches or fails to deliver its access agreement would face a fine of up to £500,000.
However, analysis by UCU highlights how the entire landscape of higher education will change under the new system. Shifting the burden of paying for a university education from the state to the student will not generate the extra funds universities say they need, nor will it provide an enhanced experience for the individual student.
The union said that if the access agreements are vigorously enforced then some universities will end up with less money than they have now or face fines if they charge higher fees in an attempt to break even. If, however, they are not enforced then there will be accusations that the agreements were merely a sop to Liberal Democrat MPs looking for an excuse to break their pre-election promise not to vote for higher fees.
Earlier this week a leaked document from Cambridge University confirmed that it would charge the maximum £9,000 a year. The sector is now waiting to see what other institutions will charge and which universities will be the first to show their hand.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘Government claims that universities will only charge more than £6,000 a year in exceptional circumstances are completely bogus when one scratches at the surface of the plans. By slashing the teaching grant and making students foot the bill we will see whole subject areas starved of public funds and possibly forced to close.
‘We are not alone in expressing concerns that some universities will charge the full fee simply because they won’t want their courses to be seen as inferior because they cost less. We are entering unchartered territory for universities, students and families and are now starting to see just what a terrible move tripling fees and creating a market in degrees was. It will be interesting to see if the access agreements have any teeth or were merely a sop to Liberal Democrat MPs desperately looking for an excuse to cling to as they broke their pre-election promise to vote against any increase in fees.’

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