Higher fees and less transparency: government plans to scrap £9k fee cap for top universities

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Senior academics have slammed a government higher education green paper which they claim will make university “available only for a minority who can afford to bear heavy debts.”

Under the proposals students would be graded on a new quantitative 13-point scale, similar to American universities.

A University of York official said the prominence of teaching and student experience in the new policy recommendations would be welcomed.

Professor John A Robinson, the University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching, Learning and Information, said: “We were expecting it to detail plans for a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and the Green Paper delivers, in part.

“But there’s much that’s left open and much to debate.

“University Teaching Committee’s main strategy meeting next month is focused on the TEF and the VC has initiated a wider consultation throughout the university that will inform our submission in response to the Green Paper.

“I encourage students to be in touch with GSA and YUSU representatives and to feed comments in directly to the internal consultation.”

Opponents of the paper, released earlier this month, claim ministers would be able to raise tuition fees above £9,000 for the universities that perform best, without parliamentary approval under the new plans.

“The proposals outlined in the green paper will make it harder for universities to deliver high-quality education for all,” an open letter – from lecturers at 15 universities including Newcastle, UCL and Cambridge – argues.

They add: “It is likely to lead to higher tuition fees for many, increased state intervention into the organisation and delivery of HE, more bureaucracy for staff and less autonomy for student unions.”

Jo Johnson, the universities minister, launched the green paper at a conference of vice-chancellors.

He said: “Success in higher education should be based on merit, not on incumbency.

“I want to fulfil our aim of a level playing field for all providers of higher education.”

But Gordon Marsden, the shadow education minister, said these changes will “effectively brand some universities as second class, impacting on their students’ life chances.”

Ben Leatham, President of YUSU, said: “The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) was launched recently along with a number of other reforms in Higher Education in a governmental Green Paper.

“In my opinion it has generated more questions than answers.

“For a start it is unclear how it would incentivise excellence in teaching and learning.

“This paper marks the start of a consultation period. We will actively engage in consultation to ensure it is a framework that truly measures what students’ value within their academic experience.

“Thomas Ron and I are meeting with University Senior Management this week to discuss their understanding of the paper and their approach to consultation.”

National Campaign Against Fees And Cuts campaigner Deborah Hermanns has accused ministers of “attacking poorer students and institutions,” and said the proposals warranted a new wave of student protest. Thousands of students will be priced out of education.”

The green paper also suggests universities be made exempt from Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, because they are now largely privately funded the report says.

Transparency campaigners claim that if FoI powers are taken away, universities will not be held accountable for how they use students’ money.

Shadow minister Louise Haigh criticised the proposals: “Rather than removing accountability from public services, we have been clear that they should instead be considering how to extend it to all providers, including private companies, where they are paid from taxpayers’ money.”

York Vision has in the past used FoI legislation to expose reckless university spending, including revealing earlier this year how top staff blew thousands of pounds on five star hotel stays.

The YUSU President at the time described the spending as “an absolute joke”.