Universities in England have started telling potential students that their tuition fees will go up across the board from next year, the first rise since fees were nearly trebled to £9,000 in 2012.
Manchester and Durham are among universities already listing annual undergraduate fees as rising to £9,250, following an announcement by higher education minister Jo Johnson that universities meeting expectations under the first year of the new teaching excellence framework (TEF) were able to raise them from September 2017.
A government spokesperson said: “The ability to maintain fees in line with inflation has been in place since 2004, and is subject to regulations. This is not part of the higher education and research bill.
“The teaching excellence framework will allow universities to maintain fees in line with inflation only if they meet a quality bar, as set out in the recent higher education white paper.”
Manchester University told students thinking of applying to begin studying next year that “these fees are regulated by the UK government, and so may increase each year in line with government policy. For entry into 2017-18, there is a possible increase of 2.8%”.
Final approval will come when the government presents the increase to parliament later this year, but that is expected to be a formality after Johnson announced in May that fees for 2017-18 would rise by 2.8%.
“The £9,000 tuition fee introduced in 2012 has already fallen in value to £8,500 in real terms. If we leave it unchanged, it will be worth £8,000 by the end of this parliament. We want to ensure that our universities have the funding they need and that every student receives a high-quality experience during their time in higher education,” Johnson told MPs.
The increase is linked to the inflation measure known as RPIX – the retail price index excluding mortgage interest payments. The RPIX last reached 2.8% in January 2014.
Andrew McGettigan, an academic who specialises in university financing, questioned how the 2.8% figure came to be used.
“Universities can hardly be blamed for using a figure the minister responsible for universities announced to parliament in May. One might query how Jo Johnson arrived at his 2.8%, as RPIX has not been at that level since January 2014. Perhaps the figure will be revised downwards when parliament gets to vote in the autumn,” McGettigan said.
A spokesperson for Durham University said its council decided to go ahead with the fee increase last week.
“To meet our obligations under Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) legislation, we are required to provide comprehensive and transparent information to applicants, including in relation to fees, on the university website and at pre-application open days,” the university said.
“To ensure that we are CMA compliant, this requires indicating that we intend to set a fee of £9,250 to incoming home and EU undergraduate students in 2017-18.”
There will be further increases for those starting their studies in subsequent years, if the government’s higher education legislation is passed. Under the new bill, the TEF’s second phase will impose fee caps on institutions with poor teaching or student satisfaction while allowing others to increase their fees.
Last year, universities received nearly £9bn in undergraduate tuition fee income, the highest level on record, along with a further £3bn in direct government payments. The 2017 increase would see their income rise by a combined £250m a year.
A number of universities say they have yet to finalise or publish their 2017 fees, with Oxford saying that its figure would be published in September.
In a statement on its website, Exeter University said: “For UK and EU students starting a new full-time degree in 2017 at the University of Exeter the fee is £9,000. This figure is subject to final approval by [the Office for Fair Access] and may be subject to small increments set by the government each year.”