Inside the mind of those setting university fees

19 Apr 2011

 Today is the deadline for those universities in England wishing to charge more than £6,000 in tuition fees to submit their plans to the watchdog, the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).

So far, over three-quarters for those that have published their plans intend to charge the maximum annual fee of £9,000 a year. The current average stands at just below £8,700 according to The Guardian.

 However, one of the most interesting decisions was taken recently by Coventry University,  which is charging variable fees based on the cost of delivering the course. The thinking behind this decision is worthy of closer consideration.

First the Coventry decision. From 2012 the university will have a range of fees, starting at £7,500 and rising to £9,000. This breaks down as follows:

  • £7,500: classroom based degrees
  • £7.900: studio and activity-based degrees
  • £8,300: lab-based degrees
  • £9,000: specialist degrees such as engineering, fashion and automotive and transport design

Professor Ian Marshall, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, says the university "felt the only fair answer was to charge variable fees which were based on the actual cost of delivering the course, taking into account all the main direct and indirect costs and adding a reasonable surplus to invest in future developments".

 To reach its decision, the university brought in an external consultancy to do a costing exercise of its programmes.

  The University has anticipated a problem that could be faced by other universities, namely the prospect of students on low-cost courses feeling they are being asked to subsidise others on courses where teaching, equipment and facility costs are higher.

Other universities appear to have taken into account the popularity of courses and the earnings premium they might bring to graduates when setting fee levels. 

  Coventry has also introduced a "no hidden extras" policy. This followed their research which shows that students and parents were irritated by hidden costs such as buying textbooks and field trips. Therefore - the University's fees include core textbooks, starter packs, printing credits, and the costs of field trip or day visits in the UK.

 London Metropolitan and Birkbeck are amongst the small number of other universities to have a banded approach to fees. 



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