Sussex will see fees rise to £9,250 for every home and EU undergraduate, including current students, those who have already started on £9,000.
The announcement was included at the bottom of a press release about university funding by Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell. The release titled, “information on your fees and how we spend them”, did not draw attention to the rise in fees.
The 2017/18 terms and conditions set out by the university state that students can expect a year on year rise in fees. However, this isn’t mentioned in the terms and conditions governing those starting in prior years.
The terms and conditions are the basis of the contract between students and the university. This means all current undergraduate students continuing at Sussex next year will pay a higher fee than was originally set out contractually by the university.
This calls into question a university statement to The Badger which claims: “there has not been any change to student’s terms and conditions, however we have made information about fees even more explicit as this is such an important area for everyone to be as clear about as possible” – yet the 2016/17 and 2017/18 documents are different.
Without being up front in the terms and conditions about the potential for a rise in fees, the university may fly in the face of guidance issued by the Competition Markets Authority, the regulator in charge of trading standards in higher education.
In the government’s 2015 legal guidance to universities on consumer protection law, subtitled “helping you comply with your obligations”, it states: “If no mention is made about fee increases up front, a term that allows fee increases is unlikely to be considered fair”, emphasis in the original.
The spokesperson also claimed the government sets the university’s fees. Yet its website says: “fees are set by the University, but are subject to UK government conformation and to satisfying the Teaching Excellence Framework”.
In addition, the spokesperson contended: “the University will absolutely continue to provide clarity as soon as possible on all information regarding fees particularly when we know more about TEF (the Teaching Education Framework), which is not relevant for next year”.
Yet TEF is the exact mechanism that is allowing the university to raise fees since the Education Minister Jo Johnson recently announced that universities could charge an upper limit of £9,250, as part of TEF.
This will see current students’s fees rise by an extra £250 for next year alone. TEF also allows fees to be linked to the Retail Price Index, a measure of inflation.
VC Adam Tickell noted in the press release mentioning the rise: “From the 2017/18 academic year we will need all new and current students to contribute slightly more per year, with fees rising in line with inflation to £9,250”.
In line with TEF, institutions demonstrating “high quality teaching” will be able to increase fees by 2.8% in 2017/18.
This is a higher rate than the 2.5% agreed between the university and the Students’ Union for non-EU international undergraduates.
TEF’s implementation would see the average student hit by two sets of fee increases while studying at Sussex, rising with inflation.
Yet this isn’t the maximum: an undergraduate doing a foundation year, as well as a year abroad, could see the cost of their education rise four times.
Sussex students could bear the brunt of an unknown rise in fees if inflation were to substantially increase, which is possible given recent financial instability and the fall in the pound, due to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.
Sussex Students’ Union responded to the university’s press release saying: “as a Students’ Union we would like to reaffirm our opposition to rising tuition fees, for Home, EU and non-EU International students here at the University of Sussex.
“We welcome the increased transparency of the University of Sussex in showing more clearly how our tuition fees are spent but ask for greater transparency in how international student fees are set and spent. We still continue to campaign for free education for all.
“The UK government has raised the maximum tuition fees charge to £9,250 for 2017/18 and the University of Sussex have chosen to increase all tuition fees, for new and continuing Home/EU students up to this maximum. Some other Universities such as Warwick, Sheffield and Plymouth have committed to keeping fees at £9,000 for 2017/18 for continuing students.”
TEF has been opposed by an array of civil society bodies including the National Union of Students and the University and College Union, the principal trade union for university academics.
Sussex students voted in a Student Union referendum to disrupt the TEF, by boycotting the National Student Survey, one of the metrics used to rank universities.
The Vice-Chancellor shall be exclusively interviewed by The Badger about the fee increase.