Around 28 universities have indicated they have an interest in reducing their fee charges from £9,000 to £7,500 for the coming academic year.
The move follows the decision by more than a third of UK higher education institutions to levy the maximum fee charge for students beginning their programmes of study in autumn 2012.
Now the Office of Fair Access has contacted universities across England inviting them to reconsider their fee levels for the coming year and to submit a proposal for change.
The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) exists to helps students fairly gain their place in higher education. Their method for achieving this is to ensure universities have an ‘access agreement’, a prerequisite for any English higher education institution wanting to charge greater fees. The OFFA is an independent public body.
An institution must effectively demonstrate to OFFA that they have made sufficient effort to take students from poorer backgrounds if it is to be allowed to charge anything over the standard rate of £6,000 per year, enhancing an overall aim of widening participation.
Whilst there was a widespread assumption that only the most elite universities would seek to charge the maximum £9,000, with others staggered along a scale, the harsh reality of the cost of a degree in England is reflected in the average being just shy of £8,400 each year.
Students are eventually required to pay back their tuition fee loans when earning a designated level of income. However the immediate responsibility of the enormous fees hike ultimately falls on the government and their budget in the sponsorship and administration of student loans.
With close to a third of universities jumping on board at the earliest opportunity to increase fees to the £9,000 limit it seemed there was little incentive for universities to charge significantly unless they were particularly undersubscribed or poorly rated.
Consequently the government has drawn up a white paper to encourage more universities to consider lower charges. Universities recruiting students with grades lower than AAB are being invited to reduce their fees by one and a half thousand pounds.
Charging maximum fees whilst simultaneously accepting students with below the AAB benchmark will mean that places are taken away from institutions charging £9,000 and awarded to those charging less instead.
The government hopes that the plans outlined in the white paper will broaden participation within areas that have been typically under-represented, reducing the rate of progression toward an elitist US-style system and maintaining wide levels of accessibility regardless of background.
The proposed fee changes come in the wake of a UCAS report stating that there is presently a 12 percent decrease in the overall number of applications to higher education for next year, broadly attributed to the expanded costs.
As yet, it is not known which institutions have applied to reduce their fees, though universities still have until 2 November to submit their applications and a decision on whether or not it will take place is expected on 30 November.