Provost calls for variable fees to reflect sector diversity
5 January 2004
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on 7 January 2004, Professor Malcolm Grant, President & Provost of UCL, supported the government's proposals to introduce variable tuition fees as a reflection of the higher education sector's diversity.
Tuition fees at the moment are £1,125 per year, and they have to be paid upfront. The government's proposals, for students entering university from 2006, are for a fee of £3,000, but this does not have to start to be paid until earnings after graduation exceed £15,000.
On the day before the government publishes its higher education bill, Professor Grant said: "A cap is quite a reasonable proposition to start with as a transitional measure because it allows students and their families to plan properly for the future costs of university education. But I think the real risk is that it is going to be used to suppress the true purpose of the reforms, which is to introduce a greater level of independence for universities, to take us away from our status as being a nationalised industry and allow us to pick up on decades of under-investment in our staff and in our facilities."
He said that if the cap were eventually lifted, subsequent fees should reflect the genuine costs of running a major university, within a framework in which both the government and universities could ensure that the most promising students could afford to attend.
Variables fees, he said, would reflect the sector's diversity: "We've got 131 institutions in the UK called universities and they are hugely varied in what they do, what they achieve and the quality of their staff and students. When we talk about 'elite' universities, we're not talking about socially elite, we talking about universities which are elite in terms of merit, and which are world-class institutions. We would be failing in our purpose if we didn't make it possible - not only for students to have access to higher education - but to have access to the very best."
Professor Grant continued: "A proposal that would give you a fixed flat-rate fee across the whole of the sector assumes that all the universities are the same. They're not - they're very different. We need variable fees, but I need to counter some of the suggestions that have been going around that they would be as high as £15,000. That's nonsense. That's confusing price with cost. We know that it costs us £15,000 to educate students in laboratory-based subjects, £20,0000 in relation to medicine. Those are the fees we charge to overseas students. But in relation to home students there is, of course, an enormous offsetting by reason of the government grant that we get. That brings the price down, but even with the £3,000 capped fee, we would be short of the money that we would need to fund the universities properly."