University Council agrees proposed tuition fees from 2012
11 April 2011
Over recent weeks, a number of UK universities have announced their proposed level of UK and other EU undergraduate tuition fees from 2012.
Faced with the withdrawal of a significant proportion of public funding for undergraduate teaching, the University of Sheffield has undertaken a structured process of analysis and discussion. This considered not only fee levels, but the nature of our offer to students in line with our academic values, the necessary costs to deliver an agreed, and in some areas enhanced, level of quality and the impact of any decisions on the particular community of students who come to the University of Sheffield.
This afternoon the University Council considered a report from the University´s Executive Board on these issues. Following considerable debate, Council made the decision that it had no choice but to propose a fee level which would be best able to replace reductions in government funding while ensuring we are able to deliver a consistently excellent education to students from all backgrounds.
The following recommendations to Council were accepted:
- Tuition fees for all full time UK/EU undergraduate students entering University of Sheffield courses in 2012 to be £9,000, except for non standard fees.
- Given the vital importance of widening participation, to seek approval from the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) for our Access Agreement in which we forecast to significantly expand our financial support, outreach and retention activities to £10 million in 2012. The proposed fee level is subject to approval by OFFA of this Access Agreement.
The fees for international students are unaffected by these decisions and are subject to the normal annual review.
Support for broad access for students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds will be translated into a comprehensive package of financial support and outreach activities to help them benefit from study at the University of Sheffield, with ongoing monitoring to ensure that resources devoted to this are having the maximum impact. Specifically:
- More than one third of all our UK undergraduate students – over 6,000 each year – will be eligible for some form of financial aid
- Bursaries will be available to all students with a total household income of up to £42,000 and will be available as either cash or accommodation discount
- Spending on outreach and retention programmes will be doubled to £4 million
- Mature students from low income backgrounds will be further supported through fee reductions for our Foundation Programme in Combined Studies
- Students from low-participation backgrounds will receive more than £13,000 of aid from the University over the course of a three year degree
- Eligible students will also be able to experience university with a first year 100 per cent fee waiver
- In all £12 million will be spent on widening participation by 2015 (compared to £6.7 million per annum currently)
This decision was only agreed by Council following months of consideration and debate – and despite deep concerns which are hard to resolve. You will not be surprised to learn that such considerations are sometimes painful, in particular given our University´s excellent track record on widening participation – something we are determined to continue. However, given the costs of delivering the quality that our students expect and deserve, Council believed it was not possible to recommend a fee at the lower end of the possible range without seriously damaging quality.
Yet however difficult the process, it is my assessment that given the uncertain environment in which we are setting our tuition fees for 2012/13, we in Sheffield have not rushed to judgement or taken a purely market-focused position. We have carefully considered all options available to us, forming our conclusions in the light of our academic values, concern for the quality we offer to our students and what will enable us to sustain this in the long term.
Our detailed Project 2012 considered carefully the nature of our `proposition´ – what it is that students most value, why they should come to study at the University of Sheffield, what it will be like and how they will benefit. Separate working groups addressed our competitive position; widening participation, diversity and the `Access Agreement´; planning and modelling; enhancing the student experience and market testing our conclusions with potential students and other stakeholders. Each was led by a senior member of the University and members of Council were represented. The Union of Students was represented on each workstream.
We have undertaken wide consultation, competitor analysis, market research and consulted with the Senate. Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellors have discussed tuition fees with their departmental heads and at Faculty Executive Boards, using data from the project. Feedback from these faculty discussions clearly indicated preference for a single flat fee capable of maintaining and improving academic standards, vital if the University is to ensure its ongoing global reputation for academic quality.
Without doubt, important questions remain. The Higher Education White Paper – now expected in summer 2011 – may outline further action to forward the Government´s reform agenda. Issues such as student number controls and access agreements are being dealt with before, or in parallel to, the White Paper and it is uncertain when some of these issues will be resolved. There may also be changes to the mechanism to manage the affordability of student loans in the future, as the Government considers its options to reduce the cost of financing student loans at a higher average fee level across the sector than anticipated.
Yet one thing is clear. What remains to us all now is a real challenge not of our choosing, but 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 demonstrate the long term value of investing in the kind of education we offer here in Sheffield. In a negative environment, we must effectively deliver and communicate the positive worth of the 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. Indeed we will continue to make our own investment to achieve our academic ambitions, and Council has shown this determination by agreeing the first step in a five year programme of investment in our teaching and research infrastructure.
We will need to explain in simple terms what financial support is available to the many students who will be eligible for help. We will continue to listen carefully to what matters most to our students, and we will work with them to deliver the life-changing experience of a world-class education. We will not turn away from our founding vision of a University of Sheffield `for the people´, but will hold a broad vision which will apply resources intelligently to nurture talent regardless of background.
We will do this, not because we have been forced to do so, but because these are our values regardless of circumstances. They are true of a University which unites the highest academic quality and impact on the world around us with a community which is down-to-earth and inclusive. I am proud to be Vice-Chancellor of such an institution, and I thank you for your support at this challenging time.
Professor Keith Burnett