The University of Exeter’s Vice-Chancellor Sir Steve Smith confirmed that the University would want tuition fees to rise in line with inflation if the Higher Education Green Paper plans are to be implemented.
In an all-student talk on Thursday 26 November, senior members of University staff answered questions from the student body. When asked whether the University would be “enthusiastic about raising fees” if student numbers fall in future, Sir Steve responded: “Do we want fees to increase? Yes, we do. We cannot go on forever with no inflation on fees.”
Describing the potential future decision as a “fair measure”, Sir Steve maintained that a rise in fees would combat rising staff costs, which increased by 4.7 per cent last year, stating that the University would be unable to “keep absorbing rising staff costs if fees are stable”.
According to the Green Paper ‘Fulfilling our potential: teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice’ published by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, the Government expects to see institutions that perform best within the TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) “reinvest in the quality of their teaching and grow their capacity to teach more students” through their greater ability to raise fees in line with inflation. The document also suggests that staff pay could be linked to performance.
Following the proposals’ release, the Students’ Guild has issued a statement outlining a rise in fees as an area of concern. It stated: “The fear of debt remains a significant deterrent to entering higher education for many; particularly when graduate prospects are not as strong as they once were and the student experience across the sector hasn’t dramatically improved.”
A 2014 Public Accounts Committee report found that £200 billion worth of student debt could be highly detrimental to state finances in 30 years time and that the government consistently overestimates annual repayments on student loans. A Higher Education Academy Academic Experience survey earlier this year also found that just 35 per cent of students felt that they had received ‘good’ or ‘very good’ value for money.
Nonetheless, in a debate against former NUS President Toni Pearce in March of the same year, Sir Steve successfully convinced students to vote against the motion “This House Believes That Tuition Fees Should Not Increase”. Students were asked, however, to vote on the merits of the arguments they heard, rather than according to their personal opinion. During the debate, Sir Steve referenced the 52 per cent increase in applications despite the 2012 fee rise to £9,000, concluding that it would be “unrealistic” to believe that University development could be funded through government investment alone.
Students’ Guild President Laura-Jane Tiley commented: “The Sabbatical Officers strongly oppose any increase in fees but, whilst this is out of our direct control, we will always work to ensure that the student experience at Exeter provides value for money. As higher education becomes increasingly marketised, students deserve to get the most from what they are paying.”