Wales politics

Welsh universities hopeful on fee plan

Image caption Fee plans must be approved by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales

Welsh universities say they still hope to charge students tuition fees of up to £9,000 after initial plans were rejected in the last few days.

They have a month to improve their proposals turned down by the body that funds higher education.

Education Minister Leighton Andrews said they had not done enough to attract students from poorer backgrounds.

To charge more than £4,000 they have to come up with more ambitious targets.

Their fee plans must be approved by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (Hefcw).

On Wednesday Mr Andrews said proposals from all 10 Welsh universities had been rejected and he accused universities of not taking the process seriously.

'At the heart'

"The managements of the higher education institutes in Wales have known now for several months what they have to do to get these plans approved," he told BBC Wales.

"It's disappointing that they don't seem to have followed through on the very clear guidance."

But Greg Walker, deputy director of Higher Education Wales, the body that represents Welsh Universities, said it was always going to be a very challenging process.

"Widening access and working to improve the student experience is absolutely at the heart of what we do," he said.

"Fee plans have been put in in the last few weeks, we will be working with the funding council to make sure that they do meet the exacting and stringent requirements set out.

"I don't expect anyone to get their plans completely passed straight away.

"This is not a bluff calling exercise - it's a serious process we are working hard on.

"When fee plans are finally revealed you will see a whole host of innovative and important methods of trying to widen access."

A Welsh Government subsidy means Welsh students will not have to pay the raised fees, unlike those in England.

Plans will only be agreed if institutions show they meet certain requirements, including on equal access and improving the student experience.

Answering questions in the Senedd on Wednesday, Mr Andrews said Hefcw have written to all higher education institutions (HEIs) saying their existing fee plans do not meet the requirements.

Hefcw will receive revised plans at the end of June and make a final decision on 11 July.

Mr Andrews announced last year that Welsh students will be shielded from increased tuition fees, wherever they study in the UK. Their fees, currently around £3,400, will only rise in line with inflation.

Disadvantaged backgrounds

Aberystwyth, Cardiff, Bangor, Glamorgan and Newport universities said they wanted to charge the maximum £9,000-a-year. Some courses at Newport would cost £8,250.

Hefcw said any institution which plans to charge more than £4,000 for eligible students had to submit a fee plan, detailing investments they intend to make using a proportion of this new income in order to encourage equality of opportunity and promote higher education.

But the it said in many cases "the scale of expressed ambitions" needed to be increased or better demonstrated in terms of clearer targets, so they could judge whether expectations were being met.

In England, universities have been given permission to charge up to £9,000 per year.

This will be paid up-front to the university as a government loan, which students then repay after they graduate, once their their yearly income reaches £21,000.

English universities wanting to charge more than £6,000 have been required to submit "access agreements" to the Office of Fair Access (Offa), detailing the measures they will take to attract students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Offa is currently assessing them and is due to publish the approved agreements by 11 July.

The University and College Union (UCU) said news that Welsh universities have had their initial plans for tuition fee rises rejected was worrying news for English institutions.

Scottish students, however, are not required to pay any tuition fees

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