Education & Family

Maximum fees 'would have put students off', says survey

Image caption The government says graduates will not start repaying their loans until they are earning £21,000

More than half of final-year students at top universities in England say they would not have enrolled if annual fees had been £9,000, a survey has found.

The poll questioned 12,658 finalists studying at 24 top English universities which are expected to charge the maximum £9,000 for courses from 2012.

Research firm High Fliers found former state school pupils were most put off.

The results come as ministers plan to increase fees from just over £3,000 to between £6,000 and £9,000 from 2012.

The government says higher fees are fair because graduates earn more over their lifetime than non-graduates.

The poll showed 33% would have been put off degree studies by fees of £6,000 per annum and 51% by the maximum £9,000 levy.

Students at the universities of Loughborough, Sheffield, Lancaster, Liverpool and Reading were the most concerned, with more than three-fifths at each saying they would not have embarked on a degree if they had had to pay the maximum fee.

But students at Oxford and Cambridge were the least concerned, 25% and 27% respectively saying they would be put off by the top fee level.

State school pupils were more likely to say they would not have gone into higher education if they had had to pay tuition fees of £9,000.

Some 59% of those who attended comprehensive schools and 51% who attended grammar schools, said they would have been put off, compared with 39% of those who were educated privately.

'Invidious position'

The survey suggests female undergraduates are more likely to have been turned off university by maximum fees than their male peers.

And those living in the north of England were most likely to be put off doing a degree by the increased costs.

Managing director of High Fliers Research, Martin Birchall said: "This highlights the invidious position that universities have been put in by the government's decision to cut funding for undergraduate teaching from 2012 and replace it with substantially higher student tuition fees."

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "Students should not be worried about fees because the evidence shows that the generosity of grants and loans compensates for them.

"Our student loans system will be more generous. Students won't start repaying their loans until their earnings reach £21,000, up from the £15,000 threshold for today's graduates."


But Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, said: "This is yet further proof, if any were needed, that trebling tuition fees will put a great many ambitious talented young people off going to university.

"Students understand the system that is being put into place and are still saying, in no uncertain terms, that graduating with upwards of £40,000 of debt is too much.

"What is particularly worrying is those that are most likely to be affected are from groups that are already under-represented in our universities or are studying in subject areas already under threat due to the targeting of government-funding cuts.

"The government appears to have a desire to cut student numbers by pricing some students out of the system. It is clear that this will hit those from poorer backgrounds the hardest."

The students surveyed attended Newcastle, Durham, Lancaster, York, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Loughborough, Aston, Birmingham, Warwick, Cambridge, Oxford, Bristol, Bath, Reading, Exeter, Southampton, Imperial College, King's College London, London School of Economics and University College London.

The interviews for the survey were carried out in March.

The results came as the latest figures from the university admissions body Ucas showed record numbers of applications for entry this year.

Prospective student numbers are up 2.1% on this time last year, with 633,811 applications by 18 April 2011.

A major surge had been feared, with students missing gap years and rushing to get into university before the new fees regime comes in in 2012.

However, the pace of growth in applications appears to be easing off. The final total for applications for 2010 entry was up 9% on the previous year - which itself was up 8.7% on 2008.

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