English university fees could treble: government
Universities in England will be allowed to treble their tuition fees as the government looks to reduce its huge deficit, according to plans unveiled by Britain's universities minister on Wednesday.
At present, fees are capped at 3,290 pounds (3,777 euros, 5,275 dollars) per student, per year, but from 2012 universities will be able to charge up to 6,000 per year or 9,000 pounds in exceptional circumstances.
Universities Minister David Willetts described the proposal, which is still to be approved by parliament, as "progressive" and claimed it would offer "greater choice for students with a stronger focus on high quality teaching."
Any institutions which charge over 6,000 pounds will have to satisfy tougher rules brought in to ensure access for poorer students.
Britain's coalition government, which came to power in May, predicts that by shifting more of the cost to students that it can cut central spending on universities by 40 percent.
The government hopes that the fee hike will help fill the gap left in university budgets by massive public funding cuts announced in a spending review last month.
The proposals are likely to prove contentious within government as the coalition's junior partners, the Liberal Democrats, campaigned for the abolition of tuition fees before May's general election.
The opposition Labour party's spokesman for higher education, Gareth Thomas, said the plans were a "tragedy."
"They don't have to do this. They believe a crude, competitive market is the best way forward," he said.
The country's National Union of Students also opposed the plan.
"There is nothing progressive about a trebling of the fee cap and a new higher rate of interest on the loans," union president Aaron Potter said.
The government will continue to provide loans to meet fees and graduates will only start paying back the outstanding balance when they are are earning over a fixed annual wage, which will rise from 15,000 pounds to 21,000 pounds.
High earners will be hardest hit with a means-tested interest rate being applied to repayments.
© 2010 AFP