By Eamonn Cunningham
CONTROVERSIAL information has revealed that Russell Group universities, of which Queen’s is a member, are pushing an initiative to raise the amount that students pay in tuition fees to a figure close to £10,000.
The Russell Group are a collective of research intensive universities in the UK who support the campaign to remove the cap on fees for higher education.
A questionnaire conducted by The Guardian, shows that Vice Chancellors of Russell Group universities, say that maximum fees would have to be at least doubled, following a review of the system that is to be concluded in 2009. It has also come to light, that the fees for some science courses could reach catastrophic costs of £10,000.
The Guardian’s recent findings are causing uproar amongst students, who feel that they are already paying an excessive cost to attend university, leaving them with insurmountable debts to tackle upon stepping into the job-sector. Reports now suggest that, as things are, undergraduates are paying £13,000 a year in tuition fees and maintenance costs. The idea that Queen’s would like to make courses cost as much as £10,000 per year is hard to swallow, and is rightly provoking some QUB students to oppose these plans.
First year biomedical student, Emma McKillion said “…Any plans by the Russell Group to raise fees are completely callous and unjust. That we may have to pay more, particularly with the oncoming financial crisis is unacceptable…”.
In the questionnaire, the heads of the universities supporting the new scheme, defend the plans by saying the funds available to teach an undergraduate in the UK are £7,300 compared to £11,500 in the U.S. They claim the only perceivable way to bridge this gap, is through a “higher tuition fee charge”. Surely the fact that U.S universities may charge extortionate amounts, is no excuse to raise student fees in the U.K
The argument propounded by the vice chancellors of the Russell Group universities is that increased fees will be used to make their institutions more competitive, and allow them to provide students with the best research facilities.
Speaking on the matter, Students’ Union president Ciarnán Helferty told The Gown that the rumoured increase in fees is unacceptable. He adds that, if universities need extra money to fund research projects, such money should come from central government.
Queen’s presently set their tuition fees at £3,145, the absolute maximum under the current system regulations. Being a member of the Russell Group, and a strongly research focused university, QUB was implicitly involved in this motion.
At the time of print, the Vice Chancellor’s communications office refused to issue an official statement on the matter. Although this does not conclusively prove Queen’s compliance with the Russell Group‘s motion, it raises the issue of why the university has shied away from this matter.
This silence provides students with the scope to infer that QUB could potentially have some involvement in increasing fees.
The real issue on show here is the effects that these new cost proposals would have upon societal changes. The last 40 years has seen higher education in the U.K transformed into a mass participation system, providing more people with the chance to improve their academic standings. Even with the onset of top-up fees in the past five years, the number of students attending university has increased.
However, there is sufficient proof to demonstrate how significant increases in tuition fees would effectively deny students from low income backgrounds the option of going to university. Queen’s has always sought to present itself as an inclusive institution for people from all cultural and societal backgrounds. How then could the university support a movement which would exclude a considerable section of the community, and drag us back into the old elitist concept of attending university.
Overall, the issue of tuition fees remains ambiguous and inconclusive, and Queen’s position on the topic, even more ambivalent. This is likely to continue, at least until the review of the fees system is released in 2009. Queen’s silence leaves many questions unanswered, and inauspicious doubt in the air.
What is certain, however, is that the prospect of tuition fees doubling, is a very real and disturbing concept for students, and one that we may be forced to face up to sooner than we think.