As the government stands poised on the brink of a monumental rise in tuition fees, still clinging resolutely to their claims that the new system is “fair and progressive”, a new survey has conclusively shown that students from poorer backgrounds will be put off attending university by the new £9000 fees.
The survey, conducted by research firm High Fliers, collated results from 12,658 final year students attending 20 top universities in England. These included Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, York, Leeds, Bristol, Bath, Loughborough, Sheffield and Manchester Universities among others. The students, who have paid the current level of £3290 tuition fees for each of their years of study, were simply asked whether they would have been deterred from applying to university had the fees been set at the new level of £6000 – £9000 when they started. (Significantly, almost all of the universities surveyed are among those which have announced plans to charge the maximum rate of £9000 tuition fees).
The results are startling, and certainly discredit the government belief that higher fees will not have a negative impact on application rates from students from disadvantaged backgrounds. An overwhelming 51% of the students conclusively answered that they would not have attended university had fees stood at £9000, with this rising even higher to three fifths of students at several universities.
Most worrying of all, the statistics clearly upheld the concerns of those in opposition to the new tuition fees scheme, showing that an enormous 59% of state school pupils would not have applied to university with £9000 fees, compared to just 39% of privately educated students. With higher education already showing a marked bias towards students from private schools at the top universities in England, this is a deeply worrying statistic for supporters of the new tuition fees program. It suggests that in spite of all the government’s efforts to tout the new scheme as progressive and fair to those from all backgrounds, it is still likely to have a devastating impact on the equality of access to higher education.
This was still further supported by survey results that showed those from homes in the North of England would be less likely to attend university under the new fees regime than their peers from the more prosperous South.
Yet further concerns about the new system were also confirmed by the survey, with those studying arts and humanities courses and languages the most likely to be deterred by higher fees, supporting fears that these essential non-vocational courses are likely to be blighted by the introduction of £9000 fees.
President of the National Union of Students Aaron Porter said: “This is yet further proof, if any were needed, that trebling tuition fees will put a great many ambitious, talented young people off going to university. Students understand the system that is being put into place and are still saying, in no uncertain terms, that graduating with upwards of £40,000 of debt is too much.”
What the survey certainly makes very clear is that, just as many people feared, it will be the students from the poorest and most disadvantaged backgrounds who will be priced out of university by the new tuition fees scheme.