Tuition fees heading over £9,500
A second wave of tuition-fee rises has been signalled, which will apply to all standards of university in England.
This will take tuition fees over £9,500 for students beginning university courses in autumn 2018.
The government has said higher fees will be linked to teaching quality – but plans released on Thursday suggest that all three quality bands can apply the same increase.
This will include those “significantly below benchmark in one or more areas”.
The government has already announced an increase to £9,250 for autumn 2017 – if the Houses of Parliament approve plans to lift the current cap of £9,000.
The Department for Education says the fee increases for 2018 will be a second “trial year” before a system with different levels of fees based on teaching quality.
“Universities will not be able to increase their fees unless they pass rigorous quality standards,” said a Department for Education spokeswoman.
“We have always been clear that as the framework develops it will become increasingly robust, with additional criteria, such as university’s retention and graduate employment rates, introduced into the judging process.”
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said a further rise in fees was “unacceptable” and asked: “Where does it end?”.
The process for deciding quality will be the “teaching excellence framework” – and for the first year, while it is being set up, the government has allowed an across-the-board increase to £9,250 from autumn 2017.
The Department for Education has now published plans for how it will be implemented – and universities will be classified in three grades – gold, silver and bronze.
But the proposals say that for courses starting in autumn 2018, “all those achieving a rating of bronze, silver and gold will receive the full inflationary uplift”.
The forecast for inflation for 2018-19 from the Office for Budget Responsibility is 3.2% – which would push the cost of fees above £9,500.
The specifications for bronze standard says these universities will be of “satisfactory quality” but they are “likely to be significantly below benchmark in one or more areas”.
It says students at these universities will be “occasionally engaged with developments from the forefront of research, scholarship or practice, and are occasionally involved in these activities”.
But the universities in this quality range – which will be decided next year – will be able to charge the same basic tuition fee in 2018 as those in the higher quality bands.
Beyond 2018, there could be different levels of fees charged, based on these assessments of quality.
Universities Minister Jo Johnson said: “By setting out clear incentives for universities, the framework will drive up quality in the sector at the same time as improving student choice and crucially, graduate outcomes – so that we can be confident we have the skills employers need now and for the future.
“The framework will also give students clear, understandable information about where the best teaching is on offer and for the first time, place teaching quality on a par with research at our universities.”
But Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “Higher education needs to be funded sustainably but for Government to continue to let fees creep up year on year, so students are unable to get a clear picture of the debt they might face, is unacceptable.”
David Phoenix, chair of the MillionPlus group of new universities, said it would be important for the teaching assessments to “take proper account of the diverse range of universities and higher education students”.
But Prof Phoenix said he remained “concerned about the timetable for implementation and the link with fees”.
Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK, said: “Universities have increased investment in teaching and learning following the funding reforms and student satisfaction rates are at record levels.”