Ministers wrong on tuition fees, says university chief
Average tuition fees in England from next year will be higher than ministers expected, a senior academic has said.
Liverpool John Moores is one of the English universities applying to charge the maximum £9,000 for all its courses.
Vice-chancellor Professor Michael Brown said universities would struggle to keep the figure down to the £6,000.
But Universities Minister David Willetts said the average tuition fees charged by universities will be "significantly below" £9,000.
Speaking on the BBC's Politics Show, Mr Willetts said: "The Office for Fair Access's job, under the legislation we inherited from Labour, is to make sure that universities are doing everything they can to widen access. It is not an overall price regulator for the sector."
Universities in England will be able to charge £6,000 for undergraduate courses from 2012, and up to £9,000 in "exceptional cases".
Prof Brown told the BBC's North West Politics Show the government had got its sums wrong and his university could not maintain the quality of its courses without charging the maximum fee.
"We're in pretty lean form as a university and yet the calculation we do is: we charge £6,000, we'll lose £26m. We can't do it," he said.
Asked whether this meant no university could charge the government's preferred £6,000, he replied: "If they do, I don't think they'll be around for very long, and they'll be a very different institution in a few years' time with that under-investment."
With the intentions of 24 universities declared, the majority intend to charge fees of £9,000 for their undergraduate degree courses.
The government had modelled its plans for university funding on an estimate that universities would charge £7,500 for fees on average.
Ministers have warned that further cuts might be made to university teaching budgets if too many universities plump for higher amounts.
Originally, it had said it expected universities to charge £9,000 only in "exceptional circumstances", but universities are independent bodies and most say they need to charge maximum fees to make up for cuts to their teaching grants.
The government's changes to university funding are based on the idea that fees will rise and replace money being taken from teaching budgets.
Mr Willetts said: "There are further education colleges that are itching to come in at significantly below these headline top prices and one of the things we are looking at is how we can make it easier for people to go to these new alternative providers.
"When the dust settles, I think we will find there is a great range of options available to students and the average is significantly below that headline £9,000."
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