Tuition fees in England and support for access
‘The 1994 Group of leading universities has today pledged to balance investments in widening participation with the need to uphold and enhance high quality student experiences. The Group’s commitment comes on the day that the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) reveals that 1994 Group universities will, on average, spend 26.2% of tuition fee income above £6000 on measures to widen participation in 2012, rising to 28.4% in 2015.’
Where a university is charging £9,000 (as is planned by all but one of the 1994 Group), 28.4 per cent of the fee income above £6,000 will be £852. This in turn will represent just under 9.5 per cent of the total fee income. When the remaining state support for teaching is added, that percentage will reduce further.
While it is obviously highly laudable that institutions are focusing on access initiatives, and that they are being encouraged by Offa to be more ambitious in that respect, it has to be said that contrary to what is suggested in the 1994 Group statement, 9.5 per cent of fee income is not an impressive investment in access, and will not necessarily lead to a statistically significant change in opportunities for the disadvantaged.
It would of course be unfair to criticise the 1994 Group, who are working constructively with what they have been given; but there is still much more work to be done on what would constitute a reasonable investment in access in a system where, increasingly, higher education participation is fee-based. But the investment that universities will need to make in such a setting will probably need to be closer to 20 per cent of fee income than 9.5 per cent.