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Smartest students could be priced out by rising university costs, says new report

15 September 2016

An influential report's warning that increasing the cost of going to university could price out the smartest students should ring alarm bells as the government allows universities to steadily raise tuition fees, UCU said today.

The union also called for guarantees and stability for EU students in the wake of the Brexit vote after the OECD's latest Education at a Glance report published today highlighted the UK's phenomenal success in recruiting international students.

Showing that UK students graduating today have the second highest average debt amongst all OECD countries, the report questioned if a rising debt burden could affect who applies to university, stating:  'England needs to continue to watch out that the smartest and not the wealthiest students get access to the best education.'

Universities have already been given the green light to raise tuition fees from £9,000 to £9,250, when the new Teaching Excellence Framework comes into force in 2017, with further increases in the pipeline.

The report found that for every one student who leaves the UK to study, 14 international students come to the country, representing 18% of higher education students in the UK in 2014, compared to 6% for OECD countries as a whole. At masters level, international students account for 37% of all UK students (compared to 12% for OECD countries) while at doctoral level, they make up 42% of UK students (compared to 27% for OECD countries).

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'This influential report should set alarm bells ringing as government allows universities to steadily increase tuition fees. The report suggests there is a price limit - if the cost of going to university in the UK is allowed to keep rising, it could make it impossible for some of the best students to get into higher education. It implies there is a cut-off point when the debt burden becomes unfeasible. 

'We need stability for EU students in the wake of the Brexit vote. Prospective EU students have no guarantees on what studying in Britain will cost for the duration of their courses - which could be up to four years. They are also in the dark as to whether they will continue to be eligible for tuition fee loans in the same way that home students are, as is currently the case. We are gambling with the great success story of UK universities' international student recruitment.'

Last updated: 19 September 2016