University under fire over £9,000 tuition fees

SHEFFIELD University this week defended its decision to triple students’ tuition fees to the maximum £9,000 a year as it came under fire from its students’ union and local Labour MPs.

Vice-chancellor Prof Keith Burnett promised the university would “champion an education worthy of that investment” in facing a challenge not of its choosing.

Students’ union president Josh Forstenzer said: “This is a sad day for Sheffield University and the city as a whole.”

Sheffield Hallam is expected to announce its figure next Tuesday.

The university has followed other elite universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, which will also charge the top figure. Students starting next autumn will face fees of £27,000 for a three-year degree after the university’s ruling body decided on Monday to charge the maximum, up from the current annual cap of £3,290.

The increase will ensure Sheffield can deliver a consistently excellent education to students from all backgrounds, it was argued. The decision followed a lengthy process of debate and discussion.

Prof Burnett said: “We now face a real challenge not of our choosing but one which we owe it to future students to accept.

“At a time when many sectors of society are feeling the impact of cuts and young people are increasingly concerned about employment and debt, we must effectively deliver and communicate the positive worth of university. We will not do this by underestimating what this investment will mean to graduates but rather by championing an education which is worthy of that investment.”

The university said it already has an excellent track record on widening participation and it would expand its financial support from £6.7m this year to £10m next year and £12m by 2015.

Bursaries will be given to students whose parents earn less than £42,000, available as either a cash or accommodation discount, and some students will be handed a fee waiver for their first year.

Mature students from low income backgrounds are being offered fee reductions on the foundation programme in combined studies, while students from low participation backgrounds are promised more than £13,000 aid over a three-year course.

Mr Forstenzer said: “The university was founded by donations from the local community to ensure the finest education was within the reach of the children of working people in our area.

“With this decision, we fear many local families will be put off sending their children to university by heavy burdens of debt.

“As student representatives at Sheffield, we believe that education should be free because it is a social good and, as such, enriches the whole of society.”

David Blunkett, former Education Secretary and MP for Brightside and Hillsborough, said Sheffield University was ‘between a rock and a hard place’.

He said: “The Government have pulled 80% of the funding for teaching and the only way they can maintain quality is by pulling in the fees from students.

“This in turn is being borrowed by the Government to the tune of £10.6bn. The merry-go-round is a ridiculous example of ideology over common sense.”