‘Choppy waters’ ahead, says Willetts

Havant MP, and minister for universities, David Willetts
Havant MP, and minister for universities, David Willetts
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DAVID Willetts has reinforced his case for a rise in tuition fees at a major conference – but admitted universities are steering themselves ‘through choppy waters’.

Speaking at the Universities UK spring conference, the universities minister said he recognised ‘tough decisions’ would have to be made in future with the transfer of direct funding from central government to students.

He said: ‘We are putting the funding in the hands of students. And, as you know, they only begin to repay contributions as graduates once they earn more than £21,000 – not far off current median earnings.

‘This is higher than the current £15,000 threshold, meaning that monthly repayments will be less than now.

‘For example, a graduate with income of £20,000 in 2016/17 will not make any contribution under the new system, while under the current system they would make an annual payment of £254.

‘One earning £25,000 in 2016/17 will make a contribution of £360, about half of what he’d be paying currently.’

Mr Willetts, who is MP for Havant, insisted universities as well as students would gain from the reforms. He explained how a Band D (classroom based) student currently receives a tuition fee of around £3,300 and a teaching grant of around £2,750, which comes to 40 per cent less than a potential £9,000 in future.

He said: ‘It is tempting for critics to oppose our plans for larger tuition loans, but it is these loans that have allowed us to boost the income going into our universities over the Comprehensive Spending Review period.

‘Our settlement increases the investment in higher education institutions by around ten per cent in cash terms by 2014-15 – and that is based on an assumption of average fees at £7,500.’

Mr Willetts went on to talk about the government’s commitment to research, by protecting the £4.6 billion ring-fenced science and research budget for the next four years. He also highlighted the protection of student numbers by delivering 10,000 extra places for 2010/11 and 2011/12. Mr Willetts said: ‘Some people would have preferred the reforms to be less radical or phased in over time. But the reality is we have had to act quickly to address the fiscal deficit and to give universities time to prepare.’

‘You are steering your universities through choppy waters. I know it is not easy, and I recognise the tough decisions you have to take. We will work with you to face these challenges.’