Third of English universities to charge maximum fees

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More than a third of universities in England have been granted permission to charge the maximum fee for all their courses, an issue that has led to student riots, a watchdog said Tuesday.

The government narrowly won a parliamentary vote in December on plans to double the basic level of annual tuition fees at English universities to £6,000 ($9,550, 6,850 euros), with an upper limit of £9,000, from next year.

The plans triggered a string of high-profile student riots in central London at the end of last year.

The Office for Fair Access (Offa) watchdog said 38 percent of universities -- 47 out of 123 -- will charge £9,000 for all their courses. This includes many of England's leading universities, including Oxford and Cambridge.

Offa said 58 percent of English universities would charge £9,000 for at least one of their undergraduate courses.

The average student starting a degree in 2012 -- the university year starts in September -- faces annual fees of almost £8,500, it said.

Ministers say far more money will be spent on encouraging students from poorer families to attend university, because institutions planning to charge more than £6,000 must get Offa to approve their plans for widening access.

"Progress over the past few years in securing fair access to the most selective universities has been inadequate," said Business Secretary Vince Cable.

Only about 40 pupils out of the 80,000 eligible for free meals at school currently make it to Oxford and Cambridge, he said.

Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, said: "Fee waivers are being used in a cynical attempt to cover up the mess made when the government trebled the tuition fee cap, instead of properly supporting less-wealthy students.

"Vince Cable had stated that fees over £6,000 would only be levied in exceptional circumstances but his solemn promise has quite clearly now been left in tatters."

Britain's coalition government brought in the changes as it bids to rein in the kingdom's record deficit.

Graduates start paying back their tuition fees once they earn more than £21,000 a year.

© 2011 AFP

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