Tuition Fees in English Universities

These teaching notes and learning activities are for use with the reading passage below.

Activity 1

a) If your bus fares / train fares tripled, how would you feel?

b) Look through the first three paragraphs and find one word which means much the same as triple. (treble)

c) The government in England plans to triple university tuition fees. When will this start?

Activity 2

Depending on your class, ask appropriate questions as a pre-reading activity to get the students thinking about this topic.

For younger students:

  • How many of you want to go to university?
  • Why?
  • Do you pay tuition fees in your home country? How much?
  • What other costs will you have to meet at university?
  • Is it right that students should be charged tuition fees to go to university? If so, how much?
  • Are loans available? How are they repaid?

For older students:

  • How many of you went to university?
  • Why did you go?
  • Did you pay tuition fees? How much?
  • Did you think it right that you should pay tuition fees? If so, what is an appropriate level of fees?
  • What others costs did you have to meet?
  • Were loans available when you went to university? Did you have a loan? How/when will you repay it?
  • From next year (2012), in the UK, university tuition fees will triple to a maximum of £9500 per year. Does that sound expensive to you or a reasonable level for tuition fees?

Activity 3

Scan the text below and pinpoint what these numbers refer to:

£21,000   £1bn £ 9,000 £7,500

£940m   12.6%   £100m   £8,000   £6,000

N.B. £9,000 is approximately eleven thousand Euro or fifteen thousand U.S. dollars.

Activity 4

Scan the text.

a) Who is David Willets?

b) What did he predict?

c) Who is Gareth Thomas?

d) What warning did he give the government?

Activity 5

Read the text below. Discuss these questions in pairs.

a) Approximately how much do English students currently pay in university tuition fees? (i.e. to autumn 2012)

b) What will the new fee maximum be? (i.e. from autumn 2012)

c) Who pays this fee initially?

d) When do the students start to repay this fee?

e) Willets predicted something but it appears he was wrong. What was he wrong about?

f) If the government is going to be short of funds for universities, what may they try to do?

g) What is Offa and what will its role be?

Activity 6

Link these half sentences together.

The government will pay …

The fees will start to be repaid …

It appears that most universities …

If most universities charge £9,000 …

The Treasury has underestimated …

If extra funds are cut from universities …

… Universities must demonstrate that the government will have to find £1bn extra.

… will be charging maximum tuition fees.

… how much universities are likely to charge.

… the university tuition fees initially.

… their teaching and research may be reduced.

… they have a plan to encourage wider intake.

once people are earning a regular salary.

Activity 7

Explain the meaning of claw back and watchdog in this context.

Activity 8

Read this short piece of text.

The moment customers stop shopping for bargains, and instead start inferring quality from price, the market melts down. Instead of going to the wall as they should, services that are both pricey and poor become profitable. In the end, students may become savvier, particularly if, as universities minister David Willetts hopes, new institutions set up and offer better value. In the meantime, the situation poses fresh problems for a coalition that has already been badly strained by the fees issue. (from Guardian article)

a) Explain the meaning of the following examples of metaphor / idiom in this paragraph.

(the market) melts down

(instead of) going to the wall

(been) badly strained

b) What customers do you think the writer is talking about?

c) What do customers normally do?

d) What is this writer suggesting they may do in this case? (work in pairs and then report back)

e) Do you agree with this writer? Why?

Ativity 8: Class discussion on the main article

Do you know why the British government is charging such dramatically higher tuition fees in England?

What is your view on this?

With regard to university applications, what is this writer suggesting about white, middle-class families?

Reading Passage

Tuition fees increase could open up £1bn gap in university funding in England

From autumn next year (2012), universities in England will be allowed to almost treble the amount they now charge, as part of a reform of the funding of higher education. The initial charge is borne by the government, which pays the fee for each student in the form of a loan before recovering its money once the student has graduated and finds a job that pays more than £21,000.

Of the 16 universities that have so far stated how much they will charge, 13 intend to use the maximum.

The government could be forced to spend almost £1bn more than expected over the next four years to cover the cost of tuition fees, as a growing number of universities set out plans to charge the maximum of £9,000 a year.

Critics fear that the government will claw back the initial outlay from other higher education spending, potentially leading to fewer university places or cuts in research budgets.

David Willetts, the universities minister in England, had anticipated that a market would develop, with institutions charging a wide range of fees, but a picture is emerging of the majority of institutions charging the top rate. Of the 16 universities that have so far stated how much they intend to charge, 13 want the maximum — University College London, Birmingham and Lancaster being the latest to do so. Willetts predicted that the average across the whole of higher education would be £7,500. It now looks much higher, but the Treasury has used the £7,500 average to determine how much universities should receive for research, teaching and building grants, among other things. Figures from the House of Commons library show that if the average is £8,600, the government will have to spend £960m more in the next four years. If it is only slightly higher, at £7,900, it is £340m extra. But if the average is £8,900, the government will have to pay out an extra £1.23bn.

The funds could be deducted from universities’ budgets and could mean fewer places on degree courses or a cut to the research or teaching grant. A total of £940m has already been cut from English universities’ budgets for teaching, research and site renovation for the next academic year, a 12.6% reduction. However, last week’s budget awarded an extra £100m to research.

Gareth Thomas, the shadow universities minister in England, said either universities would have their funds cut or the government would have to reconsider altogether. He said: “The government repeatedly promised that fees over £6,000 would be the exception, but it is increasingly clear that they are powerless to stop most universities charging closer to £9,000. This will push up average fees beyond the £7,500 estimate on which the government’s spending plans are based, requiring deeper cuts elsewhere in the higher education budget.”

Other universities seeking the £9,000 maximum are Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College London, Exeter, Essex, Aston, Manchester, Warwick and Durham. St Mary’s University College, Twickenham has said it plans to charge £8,000.

Universities that charge more than £6,000 must set out a plan, or access agreement, to widen their pool of students beyond white, middle-class teenagers, and this must be approved as adequate by the government’s access watchdog, the Office for Fair Access. Institutions have until 19 April to submit their access agreements to Offa, which will give its verdicts in July.

Guardian Newspaper: Sunday 27 March 2011