Education & Family

More universities to charge maximum fees

Image caption Universities are spending more on outreach projects

Almost three-quarters of universities in England are planning to charge the maximum £9,000 tuition fee for some or all of their courses, according to Office for Fair Access (Offa) figures.

The average fee level for 2014-15 will rise by about £150 to about £8,650.

But the total amount to be spent on supporting poorer students will also rise to £708m, up from £672m.

Offa director Les Ebdon said universities were spending "increasingly smartly".

The fair access watchdog is publishing details of the fees that universities and colleges will charge in 2014-15 and how much they will spend on recruiting and retaining poorer students.

Outreach work

Before universities are allowed to charge fees above £6,000 per year, they have to sign an "access agreement" with Offa.

These agreements show that 72% of universities are planning to charge the maximum £9,000 fee for some or all courses, compared with 62% the previous year.

Offa's report says that 26% of this higher fee income will be spent on protecting fair access to university.

This proportion of income is similar to the previous year, but the access watchdog argues that universities are becoming more effective in how they deploy their budgets for supporting poorer students.

More money will be spent on outreach projects, where universities build links with schools and young people to encourage them to think about applying to university.

This can include summer schools and visits to universities.

"Outreach work is key to addressing the unacceptably large participation gap that remains at the universities with the highest entry requirements, so I welcome the greater focus in this area," said Prof Ebdon.

He said that universities were being more strategic in their spending and using "evidence and evaluation" to see what works in reaching "students from under-represented backgrounds".

"Expenditure on outreach and student support by universities in England has continued to rise and, crucially, is being invested in a focused and targeted way," said Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK.

"These agreements demonstrate how universities remain committed to widening access and supporting student success."

But the National Union of Students highlighted that last month's spending review marked the end of the National Scholarship Programme as funding for undergraduates.

The £150m scholarship fund for poorer students is to be cut to £50m and targeted at postgraduates.

"Money worries lead many students to consider dropping out of university and even the small payments from the National Scholarship Programme could be the difference between gaining a life changing qualification and leaving with nothing," said NUS vice president, Rachel Wenstone.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "The government is determined to encourage anyone with the ambition and ability to go to university, irrespective of their background.

"We now have the highest proportion ever of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds applying to university."

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