Each undergraduate costs England’s leading universities nearly £2,000 as tuition fees and teaching grants fail to fully fund a degree, and that amount is likely to double soon unless the government acts to fill the gap.
A submission by the Russell Group of research-intensive universities – including the University of Manchester and University College London – to a consultation on higher education funding revealed that the average cost per student was £1,750 more than they receive in tuition fees and teaching grants.
The government’s plans include a freeze on undergraduate tuition fees at £9,250 until 2024-25, which would lead to the deficit per student widening to £4,000, according to the group of 24 universities. The fee for English undergraduates has been fixed at £9,250 since 2016.
Tim Bradshaw, the Russell Group’s chief executive, said the long-term funding squeeze would inevitably affect the UK’s skills pipeline.
“We understand the challenges government faces in balancing the public finances, so we welcome recent investment in high-cost subjects and capital funding. However, with tuition fees frozen for another two years and costs and student demand rising, the pressure on funding for teaching will grow,” Bradshaw said.
“Universities will continue to work hard and find ways of reducing that pressure so they can provide the best possible student experience, but if unaddressed over the long term this will inevitably affect the range and quality of courses that can be offered to students at a time when we need a breadth of high-level skills to drive a sustainable recovery.”
The group also said plans to cut fees for foundation years – pre-entry courses taken by many mature or disadvantaged students – could reduce the number taking science and technology courses. “Foundation-year courses are vital in helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds or those who may have just missed out on entry requirements get into high-quality courses and go on to high-skilled jobs,” the group said.
The government is proposing to reduce fees for foundation years provided by universities to about £5,500, the same level as fees for college access courses. The Russell Group said the lower fee would not come close to covering costs, especially in expensive courses such as engineering and medicine, with students having access to university-level facilities, teaching and support services as well as pastoral care.
In one example, the University of Sheffield’s science and engineering foundation year is one of the largest in the country with more than 200 students, 95% of whom continue on to graduate with a degree.