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UK: The latest on tuition fees and higher education funding in England

Tuition fees and broader funding issues for higher education continue to be subjects of major interest in the UK (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, September 2011, part 1 and part 2). Most notable is the release of 2012/13 funding allocation details for the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Indeed, on 25 January, Vince Cable and David Willetts—the UK Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) and the Minister for Universities and Science, respectively—jointly issued a letter to HEFCE’s Chair, Tim Melville-Ross, outlining allocations and priorities they wish to set for the Council for the coming year. Overall funding for the sector will rise from the 2011/12 total of GBP 9.3 billion (approximately EUR 11 billion) to nearly GBP 9.5 billion (just under EUR 11.2 billion) in 2012/13. These figures include:
  • the recurrent grant for teaching, which is set to fall by 17.9%;
  • the recurrent grant for research, which rises a mere 2.5%, and
  • the BIS loans to higher education institutions on the upfront costs of graduate contributions, which will jump by approximately 38%. 
2012/13 allocations also foresee the introduction of a new National Scholarship Programme (NSP), designed to support disadvantaged young people and adults. In 2012/13, the NSP will be funded at a level of GBP 50 million (EUR 59 million), rising to GBP 150 million (EUR 177 million) by 2014/15. The main priority areas outlined by document include (but are not limited to) various aspects of teaching funding (notably, support for high-cost/high-value fields such as medicine, engineering, science and agriculture); expanding social mobility; enhancing the student experience; leveraging science and research funding and coordination among key actors; and improving efficiency “in all elements of teaching, research and administrative activity”. In other news, The Guardian is reporting that the government has this month abandoned support for a proposal to penalise those who repay their student loans early. The idea had been to charge early re-payers a fee against their excess payments as a way of recovering lost income from interest not earned on these loans over a more extended repayment period. Meanwhile, a court decision has been reached in a suit brought by two young students who charged that the government’s imposition of steep tuition fee increases was violating both the 1998 Human Rights Act and an equality of opportunity principle at the heart of various non-discrimination acts. The presiding judges have determined that the government did not act illegally, and that abandoning the 2012/13 tuition plans now would throw the system into “administrative chaos”. However, the court did note that the government had fallen short in terms of its analysis of fundamental equality issues in relation to the tuition increase. Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) The Guardian (N° 10 scraps plan to penalise early student loan repayments) The Guardian (Tuition fees rise does not breach human rights, court rules)