Two-thirds of English universities want highest fees: poll

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At least two-thirds of English universities want to charge maximum tuition fees of £9,000 a year, a survey revealed Tuesday, despite government claims the new top level would rarely be applied.

In the BBC survey of 71 universities that have declared their plans, 47 said they want to charge the equivalent of 10,270 euros or $14,680 for some or all of their courses when the fee hike comes in next year.

The policy sparked violent student protests in London at the end of last year, which left dozens of demonstrators and police officers injured and led to hundreds of arrests.

Elite institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge were always expected to charge the top amount but dozens of other less prestigious universities have followed suit.

Thirty-nine universities have so far indicated they want to charge the maximum amount for all courses, the poll found.

Lawmakers voted last year to allow universities to treble their fees for undergraduate courses from the current top level of just over £3,000 amid major budget cuts to institutions' funding.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government said at the time universities would only be allowed to charge £9,000 in "exceptional circumstances".

The final charges will be confirmed in July after the fee requests have been assessed by a government watchdog.

Tuesday's poll drew a fierce response from the National Union of Students, whose president Aaron Porter criticised official claims that fees would be kept below the top level.

"When the government forced these ill-considered plans through parliament, they claimed that fees above £6,000 would be the exception rather than the rule, but that was quite clearly a pipe dream," he said.

During one protest last year, a car carrying heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla came under attack but the couple escaped unhurt.

The political fight to push through the fee rise put huge pressure on the Lib Dems, whose support for the hike amounted to a U-turn on one of the party's central pledges.

© 2011 AFP

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