English universities may soon be able to increase fees above current £9,000 cap

Credit: PA

Universities in England will be able to increase their fees past the current £9,000 per year cap, under plans revealed by the Government today.

Institutions which score highly in teaching will be able to raise fees in line with inflation from autumn 2017, the proposals stated.

The increases would be worth £1 billion per year for the next 10 years to the higher education sector, the White Paper published by the Department for Business, Industry and Skills said.

Sorana Vieru, National Unions of Students (NUS) vice president for higher education warned that the plans would "understandably outrage" students.

The White Paper, entitled Success As A Knowledge Economy also set out to:

  • Make universities publish the amount of time students spend in lectures and classes.

  • Make universities publish the jobs and average earnings their graduates get.

  • Universities would have to reduce fees if they rank badly.

  • The Office for Students, a new watchdog, would be created.

  • Universities would be forced to publish detailed information on the ethnic, gender, and socio-economic background of their students, and how they progress.

More private institutions could also gain university status and be able to award degrees - so long as they meet national standards - under the plans which are aimed at tackling a skills shortfall in certain areas.

Universities and Science minister Jo Johnson. Credit: PA

However, Ms Vieru also warned that the Government faces "serious questions" about its policy of allowing new institutions to award degrees, warning that students risked being "ripped off" unless strict standards are maintained.

She added:"We have a lot of these new providers popping up - the sector is literally mushrooming right now. But they are not established and might not have the proper support in place for students.

"My concern is that these institutions could be short-lived and that students who have been promised the opportunity of getting a degree could end up in institutions that end up folding because they are a business enterprise - an experiment."

Labour universities spokesman Gordon Marsden said it was of "great concern" that the Government was putting England's universities' hard-won reputation at risk by giving degree-awarding powers to new institutions from day one, including private providers with no previous track record in education.

He said: "With over 60% of students feeling their course is worse than expected, we welcome the focus on improving teaching standards.

"However, the timescales for introducing the Teaching Excellence Framework look very tight, and concerns remain that it will be used as a trojan horse to increase fees even further and unleash the full force of the market in higher education."

Labour universities spokesman Gordon Marsden Credit: PA

Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK, which speaks for universities across the country, said: "We support the Government's aim to protect the interests of students, increase fairness and demonstrate the value of a university education.

"The university sector is an international success story in terms of the quality of teaching and research. It is important that any reforms recognise this and build on that strength.

"Established universities are not standing still and are always seeking to improve what they offer to students."

Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, which represents the UK's top universities, said the "institutional autonomy, diversity and competitiveness" must be protected. She stressed that England's universities "punch well above our weight" in research, and the Government should think carefully before changing the research system.

Peter Horrocks, vice-chancellor of The Open University, welcomed the commitment to "flexible, innovative" learning, but said: "The Government will not meet its ambitious targets for much greater social mobility, better life chances and a more productive British economy unless many more adults gain part-time degrees, particularly where the skills gaps are greatest."