Universities debate tuition fees

East Anglia’s universities are still studying the smallprint as they decide how high to go in tuition fee charges from next year.

In recent weeks, leading universities including Cambridge and Imperial College said they wanted to charge the maximum �9,000 per year from September 2012.

But the University of East Anglia (UEA), University Campus Suffolk (UCS) and Norwich University College of the Arts (Nuca) are not yet committing themselves.

The three institutions said they were still studying guidance from the Office for Fair Access (Offa), which details what they will have to do if they want to charge anything over �6,000 per year.

Offa’s guidelines show how much universities should spend on fee subsidies and outreach projects to widen access to poorer students.

It has set a sliding scale ranging from 15-30pc of fee income above �6,000.

Universities with a low proportion of under-represented students are being advised to spend about 30pc of fees above �6,000, meaning that some of the most prestigious universities charging �9,000 per year would have to spend �900 on projects to support and recruit students from poorer backgrounds.

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Those that do not meet the criteria will not have their funding agreement signed, and will not be allowed to charge more than �6,000 a year.

The guidance means many universities are taking their time over setting their fees, as they try to get the balance right.

A UEA spokesman confirmed that no fees had been set, and added: “We are currently planning for the new regime, and will, of course, need to take into account the newly announced details on the arrangements underpinning fair access. We are determined to maintain and intensify UEA’s strong drive to ensure potential students from disadvantaged backgrounds are encouraged to seize the life-transforming opportunity of a good university education.”

A UCS spokesman said: “UCS has now received the Offa letter and is reflecting on its contents. We will make a final determination following due process by the Offa deadline of mid-April 2011.”

A Nuca spokesman said: “We haven’t yet decided our fee for 2012.”

She said the Offa guidance was an “important factor in the setting of fees as we need to ensure that talented and committed students from less privileged backgrounds, will be able to continue to study here”.

Legislation to increase the maximum fee to between �6,000-9,000 was passed recently, despite mass and at times violent protests in London.

It followed the government’s decision to cut university funding by up to 80pc, and signalled its intention to shift the burden of funding from the taxpayer to graduates.