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Students oppose differential fees, report says

The findings come in a new report by the Higher Education Policy Institute.

Most students are in favour of having the same tuition fee for all degree courses, according to a study.

It suggests that young people reject the idea of different fees for different courses, with many also opposing lower fees for poorer students.

The findings come in a report by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), which argues that the benefits of varying fees by degree are “largely illusory”.

Overall, 63% of the 1,000 students polled for the study thought that full-time undergraduate courses should have the same fees, while one in three (33%) disagreed.

Students are not price sensitive when choosing courses and differential fees are not even guaranteed to bring extra resources to universities Nick Hillman, HEPI director

Asked to give their preference if differential fees were introduced, more than half (57%) were in favour higher fees for courses that cost more to teach, 17% for courses that lead to higher earning and 7% for courses at more famous universities.

Around half (52%) agreed that higher fees might be justified for medicine, while 7% thought they could be justified for arts, such as history or English, and 6% for modern languages.

And 59% of students opposed lower fees for poorer students, with 38% in favour.

When tuition fees were raised in 2012, it was widely held that fees would vary, with ministers insisting that institutions would only charge the maximum in “exceptional circumstances”.

This variability failed to materialise and as it stands, almost all full-time undergraduate courses in England are priced at the maximum of £9,250.

There appear to be fresh moves to look at differentiation, with Education Secretary Damian Hinds arguing that more variety is needed.

  • 63% yes
  • 33% no
  • 4% don't know

Ahead of the launch of the long-awaited post-18 education review on Monday, Mr Hinds also indicated that fees should reflect the value and benefits of a degree.

HEPI director Nick Hillman said: “Different degrees are already meant to cost different amounts but, in England, fees have bunched up at the maximum price of £9,250 a year.

“Moving to a system of truly differential fees has many influential supporters. Some people seem to think having different fees for different degrees is inevitable. But the supporters of differential fees are deeply split on who should pay less and who should pay more, while most students reject the whole idea.

“At first glance, differential fees appear to have some advantages. It seems they could help poorer students, send signals about the value of different courses or help satisfy labour market needs. But, on closer inspection, these benefits prove to be largely illusory.

“Students are not price sensitive when choosing courses and differential fees are not even guaranteed to bring extra resources to universities.”

A move to adopt differential fees would mean setting out what courses should have higher fees, and what should have lower, the report notes.

For example, it could be argued that courses that are more expensive to teach, like medicine, and those that tend to lead to higher incomes, like economics, should have higher fees.

But it can also be argued that courses that cost more to teach should have lower fees because they are often valued by society, or that those that offer higher lifetime incomes are relatively cheap to teach.

The report says fees could vary depending on the student, or there could be a free-for-all with no cap.

It says some have suggested lower fees for Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) courses, as the country could benefit if more people studied the subjects.

But it warns that the case for this is “far from watertight”, noting there is already extra taxpayer support for higher cost subjects, such as many Stem areas, and that it could be argued that many Stem graduates end up on relatively high salaries.

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