University students 'being failed by patchiness in standards'
An "unacceptable patchiness" in university standards is failing students, employers and taxpayers, a Government minister has admitted.
Universities Minister Jo Johnson promised to drive up the quality of degree courses in England, as thousands of students discover if they have secured a place at university.
He said the Government will reduce the fees of poorly performing universities, while those which can prove they are excelling will be allowed to increase theirs by £1,000.
The plans, first set out in a Government White Paper in May, also include placing a duty on universities to publish data on the backgrounds of their students and the introduction of a new regulatory body which will highlight inequality.
It comes as a survey reveals just a handful of universities are planning to charge tuition fees below the current cap of £9,000 a year.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson said: "There is an unacceptable patchiness that requires our attention and, if we are to make sure our university system retains its world-leading status, we simply cannot stand still."
He added: "In my past year as Universities Minister I've seen our higher education system at its best, driving innovation, nurturing debate and helping everyone, whatever their background, go as far as their talents will take them.
"However, I've also seen troubling signs that the system is falling short of its potential and failing to deliver what students, employers and taxpayers require from it.
He added that he wants universities "to wipe out mediocre teaching and drive up student engagement".
Out of 115 universities in England, all but four will charge the full permitted fee for all undergraduate courses to home and EU students in 2016-17.
The research by thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk found that only the University of Chichester, London Metropolitan University, Buckinghamshire New University and the University of Sunderland offered courses with fees below the £9,000 limit.
Fees start at £5,500 for at the University of Chichester but climb to £12,444 at the private University of Buckingham.
Universities in Scotland will continue to offer fees from £1,820 to Scottish students, paid for by the Scottish Government.
The two universities in Northern Ireland charge £3,925 for students from the province.
Dr Bernard Kingston, chairman of thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk, said: "With almost all English universities now charging the full £9,000 fee, the competitive market is no longer based on fees, but on other factors such as student satisfaction, employment prospects and facilities."
Maximum tuition fees at English universities will rise to £9,250 a year from September 2017.
However, only a small number of institutions have so far announced that they will increase fees to the new cap.