Statement from the Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Keith Burnett re UK/EU UG fees

In 1998, the UK government introduced a system of tuition fees for undergraduates from the UK and EU. The argument was that, as higher education became more widely available to young people, the additional cost of university education to the country should in part be paid for by graduates themselves. In 2012 this initial move was taken still further by the coalition government who moved from a system of publicly funded university tuition to tuition fees of £9,000 to be covered by a system of student loans repaid by graduates once they reached a certain salary threshold.

As one of those who had personally benefited from an education at one of the best universities in the world, paid for by the state, I was deeply concerned about such a move. I have seen the transformational power of education for individuals such as me who did not come from affluent backgrounds, and the importance of skilled people and the knowledge they create for the prosperity on which the whole of society depends. I am committed to the purpose of education as a public as well as a private good, and I am on the record as opposing the current system of fees and loans for higher education which I do not believe serve this country’s national interests.

Having said that, I am also today the Vice-Chancellor of a globally-leading university with a responsibility to do my best to preserve the outstanding education which was entrusted to us and which will be needed by generations to come, as well as wider society.

Since the introduction of increased fees in 2012, there have been no increases in funding for undergraduate tuition from government and the public funding of facilities has also now fallen to universities. Indeed without the crucial support of fees from our international students, many courses of study and the facilities which support them, would be unsustainable. For this reason, I am not in a position to ignore the need to increase fees in line with inflation, a decision which would see resources for teaching continually eroded.

I do though recognise the pressures this places on young people, and I have discussed this at length with our University Council and the officers of the Students’ Union. For this reason, with the support of the Council, the University has decided not to increase fees for current and continuing students, although fees will increase to £9,250 for new entrants from 2017 and will potentially increase each year in line with inflation following that.

I will continue to do my best to work with students and others to lobby government and convince the wider public to review our current system of funding in the interests of students and the country as a whole. I will continue to express our shared view that the TEF metrics as proposed do not measure teaching excellence. Your University will also continue to seek new ways to offer an excellent education to students from all backgrounds, including through industry-sponsored degree apprentices, scholarships and bursaries.