Student Unions announce opposition to differential tuition fees

A letter signed by multiple university students' unions has been sent to the Department of Education declaring their opposition to the implementation of differential tuition fees.

Credit: Photo taken by Violeta Ivanova

Differential tuition fees aim to price university courses differently according to their value in the job market and potentially encourage students choosing certain courses, with supporters claiming the reform could help poorer students.

In the letter, the unions state that:

“Differential tuition fees, if implemented through the reduction of fees for some subject areas whilst drastically increasing fees for others, threatens to devalue the study of some social sciences and humanities, whilst simultaneously increasing the financial barrier and discouraging the pursuit of important STEM subjects by students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.”

“The idea of differential fees also ignores the utilisation of fees to cross-subsidise all aspects of the student experience at university.”

Another reason they cite for their opposition includes the level of funding universities receive from tuition fees, having previously seen tuition fees triple in 2012 and increased further to £9,250 in 2017 (different rules apply to Scotland and Wales residents).

“Similarly, if tuition fees are reduced all at the same level, there must be a mechanism in place for universities to access the same level of funding they would have received previous.”

One solution the letter suggests to relieve student debt is to reintroduce maintenance grants, explaining that: “Living costs are hurting students the most and so there needs to be a mechanism in place to assist with this”.

Directed to Chair of the Post-18 Education review panel, Philip Augar, it is not clear how seriously the panel are considering the implementation of differential tuition fees or if they’ll respond to the concerns of the letter.

The letter was signed by multiple students' union presidents, including Kent, Bath, South Wales and Canterbury Christ Church.

Currently university fees are only capped at £9,250 in the UK and can be set at any price accordingly, yet most universities choose to set course fees to the limit.

In 2018, the think tank HEPI (Higher Education Policy Institute) compiled a paper on the consequences of differential tuition fees and concluded that “it is not clear that they solve the problems their many different advocates claim.”

Other signatories included the Vice Chancellor of the University of Kent, Karen Cox, along with the Vice Chancellors from both Northampton and South Wales universities.

The letter can be found online at: