The plan, whose details were published on the day before the parliamentary summer break, will allow those universities providing “the highest quality teaching” to increase fees to GBP 9,250 from 2017-18 in line with inflation, which is estimated at 2.8% for next year.

Raising tuition fees stirs controversy

The decision to increase the fees for the first time in five years has been drawing a great deal of criticism from educators and student bodies alike.

In an opinion piece for Times Higher Education (THE) Chris Ramsey, universities' spokesman for the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) which represents heads of private schools, said the universities “have committed the marketing gaffe of alienating their own students.”

Chris Ramsay suggested that, by raising tuition fees the universities are disregarding the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) which the government uses to monitor and assess the quality of teaching in England’s institutions of higher education. The framework is being used to judge whether institutions are allowed to raise fees in line with inflation.

Durham University, the University of Kent and Royal Holloway University of London were the first to announce a GBP 250 rise in annual tuition fees for courses beginning in 2017 – above the previous cap of GBP 9,000 – and the University of Exeter has also announced that fees will rise for current students, in a move that Ramsey warned could be seen as “a bit of a betrayal”.

The headmaster of King's School, Chester wrote:

Do they really want to be seen as the greedy ones, when this year’s UCAS cycle has shown it’s a buyers’ market?

Students may choose alternative paths

Chris Ramsey said that the fee rises would prompt prospective students to think harder about their next steps. He suggested that while many students would continue to plan their futures at UK universities, others may seek alternative paths, giving more consideration to apprenticeships or studying abroad.

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There has been a steady increase in the number of UK students who consider studying abroad. The British Council ‘Broadening Horizons 2015’ research based on a survey of almost 3,000 UK students found34 per cent of all respondents were interested in some form of overseas study.

The British Council data also reveals that although English speaking countries were still most appealing to British students, 42 per cent were interested in studying in non-Anglophone countries. Of the students who were interested in overseas study, 47 per cent stated they would like to study abroad for a one-year period, followed by those who would select a full degree (26%), with one term in third place (14%).

Of those who were interested in overseas study, 49 per cent said that the cost of UK university tuition played a role in their interest. When the same question was asked in 2014, the figure was 57 per cent.

It is very likely that we will witness an increase in the proportion of UK and international students who consider British universities' tuition fees in making a decision about where to study.

Sources: THE, BBC, British Council