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In a setback to the effort to increase tuition above the basic fee of GBP 4 000 (EUR 4 482), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) issued a statement on 10 June 2011 rejecting such plans from Welsh universities. HECFW’s submission invitation, published on 5 April, provided guidance for Welsh higher education institutions seeking official approval for plans to charge up to a maximum undergraduate tuition of GBP 9 000 (EUR 10 082) beginning in the 2012/13 academic year – parallel to the approach seen in England.
In March, England’s Office of Fair Access (OFFA) issued similar guidelines outlining the conditions by which British universities could charge above the GBP 6 000 basic fee (around EUR 6 721) for UK/EU undergraduate students starting in 2012/13 (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, March 2011). Likewise, HEFCW’s guidelines called for broadening institutional access for low-income students. In a letter to the ten Welsh universities, HEFCW states, “… the scale of expressed ambitions needs to be increased and/or better demonstrated through the provision of a baseline and clearer SMART [Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time based] targets through which you and we will be able to judge whether your institution is meeting the Welsh Government’s expectations (in respect to equal opportunity)”. HEFCW has invited all institutions to re-submit applications for further consideration.
Despite the current political and social discourse regarding the “looming” tuition restructuring, plans to grant English universities the authority to charge the tuition maximum have yet to be finalised. Both OFFA (in England) and HEFCW (in Wales) will announce their final decisions on applications on 12 July and 11 July, respectively.
Meanwhile, at least one effort in the UK aims to take the mystery out of the student finance system that will take effect in autumn 2012. A newly launched Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information is comprised of a group of interested stakeholders, including the National Union of Students (NUS), the National Association of Student Money Advisors, Universities UK and others. The taskforce will be led by an outspoken consumer journalist and blogger, Martin Lewis, with former NUS president Wes Streeting as his deputy. This effort has been publicly endorsed by Universities Minister David Willetts and is focused on educating the public, through a wide range of communication channels, about the pending changes to the student finance system.