You want a good degree? Pay up

The only universities not charging the maximum amount for top-up fees are among the worst in the cou

The trickle of universities that plan to charge £9,000 from September 2012 has become a stream. It will undoubtedly turn into a flood over the coming weeks.

In the past few days, University College London, Surrey, Aston and Essex have all confirmed that they will charge the maximum amount. As have Birmingham and Lancaster. The universities minister, David Willetts, had previously stated that he expected £9,000 fees to be charged only in "exceptional circumstances". Far from the exception, £9,000 fees are proving the norm – except in a few cases.

One university that will not charge full whack is London Metropolitan University. London Met has a less-than-exemplary reputation. It dropped out of the Times's university rankings (£) after nearly coming last five years ago (it will reappear in them next year, however). In 2009, LMU was in the bottom four of the student satisfaction survey. In this year's Guardian rankings, the university came rock bottom. LMU will charge "between £6,000 and £7,000" per place from 2012. Another university set to charge less than £9,000 is Liverpool Hope University. It, too, dropped out of the Times university rankings after coming bottom.

This sets a grim precedent. The only universities to announce that they will charge less than £9,000 are among the worst in the country. This might sound harsh and dismissive of the efforts of staff and students at these institutions, but sadly it is true. League tables may have their faults, but by practically every indicator, these universities come near the bottom.

Yet these are the institutions that students who fear debt will be drawn towards. Indeed, that is the only reason these universities are willing to charge less than the maximum for undergraduate tuition fees. If you have low standards, you have to have low prices.

The public message, then, is depressingly simple: pay top rate, or get a second-rate degree.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.