Oxford students have joined the national outcry against tuition fee hikes, as OUSU followed student unions across the country in condemning a raise in payments.
Over two-thirds of universities would like to charge students at least £4,000 per year, a recent survey by the BBC showed. Some universities even called for fees of up to £20,000, or for complete removal of the fee cap.
The national cap on fees is due to be reviewed this year as the first cohort of students charged at the current rate graduate.
National Union of Students president Wes Streeting denounced the suggestion of fee rises. “In the context of the current recession, it is extremely arrogant for university vice chancellors to be fantasising about charging their students even higher fees and plunging them into over £32,000 of debt,” he said.
His views were echoed by prominent figures in OUSU. “OUSU currently opposes a lifting of the cap on tuition fees,” said OUSU President Lewis Iwu, “the student community needs to work together to ensure that our voices are heard in this crucial debate.”
A facebook group calling for a petition against fee raises has gathered over 130,000 members.
Lord Patten, Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor, has been a prominent voice in favour of raising the limit on fees. He recently told the Government that “such a low level” of fees was “intolerable” for University administrators.
Patten said he did not feel universities should serve as engines of social mobility, accusing the government of treating them like “local social security offices.”
Supporters of raising fees have pointed to a recent report by Universities UK, a group which represents the interests of University vice-chancellors. The report suggested that a rise in tuition fees up to £5,000 would not significantly affect numbers of students applying to university.
Jonny Medland, OUSU’s Vice-President-Elect for Academic and Access Affairs, questioned the report’s findings, “rising tuition fees will inevitably deter students from attending many universities as they consider whether they will see enough benefits to make entering into vast sums of debt worthwhile.”
Average student debt would soar to around £32,000 if tuition fees rose to £7 000, the report’s researchers predicted.
The report’s compilers also note that 59% of school leavers who do not go to university cite the costs of university as a primary factor in their decision.
Many Oxford students have spoken out in support of the Student Union’s opposition to any increase in fees. First-year undergraduate Carla Thomas said she felt many middle-income students might struggle to pay fees even if the poorest were supported by bursaries, saying “raising fees would hit the people in the middle hardest.”
Others, however, felt an Oxford education was worth potentially higher fees. Tim Kelly, a St Anne’s law student, stated that he would be willing to pay provided the extra money was spent on improved facilities and teaching. “For an Oxbridge degree, £7 000 is definitely worth it,” he said.
The NUS last week organised a mass lobby of MPs by students, demanding ministers to scrap the current system of tuition fees and student loans, and instead introduce a “graduate tax.” This would make university free at the point of entry, but would mean that graduates would pay for university out of their income.
According to NUS President Wes Streeting, graduates would make “a contribution depending on how much they are benefiting financially from their own use of the system.”
The University and College’s Union, which represents lecturers and academics, has strongly opposed any potential raise in fees. Secretary Sally Hunt told press, “increasing fees or the other financial barriers that so many students and parents come up against when considering university is certainly not the way to deliver a world-class university system.”
She pointed to a survey showing that the majority of British citizens wanted to see tuition fees abolished, not raised.
Oxford University has declined to comment on the matter, stating that “we have no established policy at the moment.”