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31 March 2011

Cable gets his facts wrong on tuition fees

The Business Secretary is wrong to claim that most universities aren’t planning to charge £9,000.

By George Eaton

David Cameron was unable to tell the Commons how many universities plan to charge £9,000 a year in tuition fees at yesterday’s PMQs.

Now it appears that Vince Cable, the man with ministerial responsibility for the reforms, isn’t sure either.

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According to PoliticsHome, the Business Secretary told the House:

There is no hole in the finances. If he follows the public announcement that universities have made, he will have seen that, of the 36 that we are aware of, 13 are planning to charge the maximum and many of those will have substantial fee remission under the Oxford model.

In fact, of the 23 institutions that have publicly announced their plans (it’s unclear where the figure of 36 comes from), 18 plan to charge £9,000, the latest being Bath. The reality is that, despite Cable’s insistence that universities would only charge the maximum amount in “exceptional circumstances”, most now plan to do so. The NUS president, Aaron Porter, originally predicted that 50 per cent would charge full whack, but even that looks like an underestimate.

As a result, due to the huge amounts it will have to pay out in tuition-fee loans, the coalition finds its reforms facing a £1bn funding gap. Cable’s claim that “there is no hole in the finances” is not supported by evidence.

As I noted earlier this week, new figures from the House of Commons Library show that if the average fee is £8,600, the state will have to spend £960m more over the next four years. That could mean even bigger cuts to the teaching budget (already facing an 80 per cent reduction) or 38,000 fewer university places. It is time for ministers to tell us their Plan B.