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  • Cameron Plays Robin Hood

    - Tuition fees at British universities will rise much higher than expected, numbers from the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) show. Meanwhile, universities are called upon to use the extra income from those fees to support low income students.

    British higher education watchdog OFFA reveals that the average tuition will rise by a much larger amount than initially expected by Cameron's government. The Prime Minister leads a coalition of Conservative and Liberals that allows public universities to triple their tuition fees. From 2012/2013 on, British universities may increase their fees from £3.000 (€3.400) to £9.000 (€10.200).

    Originally, this was expected to lead to an average tuition fee level of £7.500 (€8.500). However, since 58% of all universities decided to charge the maximum amount for at least some of their programs, this average will rise to a level of £8.161 (€9.250) even including discounts for disadvantaged students.

    Robin Hood's funding principle

    OFFA who provided these numbers is an independent, non-departmental public body that was created under Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2004. This agency has to give the final OK to each university which wants to increase their tuition fees above £6.000 (€6.800). This permission depends on each institute working out access agreements that outline how they will reach out to disadvantaged students from non-academic families with low incomes. Robin Hood remains a traditional British approach of 'robbing the rich to hand out to the poor.'

    Spending on access programs is consequently expected to increase significantly from currently £407m (€461m) to £600m (€680m) in 2015/2016. OFFA, nevertheless, admitted that these numbers are mere estimates from the universities´ budgets and did not factor in that the overall study demand might decrease with higher tuition fees. The goal is that less than half of the students will pay £9.000 (€10.200) including fee waivers and other financial support. How reliable these numbers are, appears questionable given that the calculations did not work out for the average tuition level either.

    The increased cash flow from higher tuition fees is desperately needed after Cameron slashed the higher education budget by £200m in 2010. Due to this move, an approximate 24.000 study places for UK and EU students were lost. Similarly, as demand for places at British universities increased by 1,4% this year, 220.000 British and European citizens could not start their studies.

    Brazil as new HE-market

    Another source of aditional income are overseas students coming to study in the UK. Non-UK and Non-EU citizens need to pay up to £26.000 (€29.500) per year. To tap into this market, David Willets, British Universities Minister, recently travelled to South America meeting with Brazilian officials. Brazil itself lacks a fully grown international higher education sector.

    Still, it is one of the most auspicious developing countries boasting high economic growth (7,5% in 2010) and relatively low inflation (4,4% in 2010). To guarantee a sufficient supply of highly educated future 'leaders', Brazil plans to set up a scholarship program allocating grants of £18.700 (€21.200) to 10.000 promising students who want to complete their studies in Great Britain.

    Despite being profitable, this move by Willets seems rather schizophrenic for two reasons. First of all, already now British universities fight with capacity shortages resulting in thousands of students being turned away every year. Stakeholders involved in the UK-Brazil deal meanwhile assure that there is nothing to worry about. Steve Smith, chief executive at Universities UK accompanied Willets on his trip and pledged that: "the scholarships are for a period of under one year and will not mean fewer places for UK students."

    A second curiosity is that this extra policysupport for recruiting overseas students goes against the pledge of Cameron to curb immigration. By 2015 the current yearly inflow of 196.000 immigrants should be cut down to the tens of thousands. This would also result in 88.000 overseas students being denied a visa. The policymakers seem to have found a loophole for Brazilian students. What BRIC-nation will be next?


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