Birkbeck’s plan to reduce tuition fees set to spark university price war

Birkbeck University has announced plans to slash its tuition fees by almost half, in turn setting off the possibility that institutions could become embroiled in a price war to reduce the cost of studying.

The move would see The University of London institution charge students £3,500 a year instead of its current £7,000 standard.

In 2010, David Cameron’s government increased higher education fees allowing UK universities to charge students up to £9,250 a year.

There have been growing concerns ever since that less and less people now apply to university because of how much it costs. 

In February, the government announced it would be reviewing university standards, including tuition fees, through a panel chaired by former city broker, Philip Augar.

Augar said: “I am delighted to chair this crucial review and to work alongside an excellent panel experienced in many different parts of the tertiary education sector. A world-class post-18 education system has never been more important to business, society and the economy. We will be focused on ensuring that the system meets those needs by driving up access, quality, choice and value for money for students of all kinds and taxpayers.”

He continued: “I look forward to engaging widely with students, business, and providers across the post-18 education landscape. This is a wide-open and far reaching review. We begin with no preconceptions and our first priority will be a serious examination of the evidence and hearing from a broad range of stakeholders who like us are committed to ensuring the system works for everyone.”

Birkbeck’s annual £7,000 fee applies to its 3 and 4 year courses, meaning it charges students £28,000 for 4 years, while some universities charge up to £27,750 for 3.

UK tuition fees, on the whole, still remain some of the most expensive in the world though.

Last month, Birkbeck announced it was leaving the UK university ranking table; it failed to enter the UK’s top 127 in 2017.

Professor David Latchman, the Master of Birkbeck, said: “Essentially Birkbeck is being penalised for having a different teaching model to all other UK universities. People will assume this is a case of sour grapes because we don’t do well. But the truth is that Birkbeck is doing exceptionally well in the ways that matter most.”

The Bloomsbury-based College also faced financial woes this year, with a £3.6 million deficit claim expected to be filed before Christmas.

Becca Cortez, 28, a HR Management MSc student at Birkbeck, was unsure what the news meant for her university moving forwards.

She said: “Interesting – but wondering how this will affect pay for educators and what, if any, changes may occur around quality of education? This will all have to balance out somehow.”

The panel, comprised of Augar and six educational professionals – is also expected to discuss new degrees that can be completed in two years; these charge higher annual fees but are 20% cheaper overall.

Called “fast track degrees”, they allow universities to charge annual tuition fees of up to £11,150.

The shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, warned this weekend that Labour would vote against any attempt to raise annual fees over £9,250.

Birkbeck’s proposal would see fees set at £14,000 for four years. It also proposes that there is a means tested loan available to cover the fee, with households with an income of less than £30,000 a year eligible to receive a loan for the full amount.

Latchman also said: “Most universities tend to focus on providing full-time degrees for undergraduates who join straight from school but there are many thousands of people who want to study part-time. Many are mature students who have existing financial commitments such as mortgages and families to support. That is why I am asking the Government to change the funding model, so that at no – or minimal – additional cost to government, part-time higher education can be made more affordable for and accessible to many more of those who would benefit from its life-changing effects”.


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