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.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.