More universities than expected have announced plans to charge the full £9,000 tuition fees, sparking warnings of a major funding gap.
Ministers who voted in December expected the £9,000 fee to be restricted to exceptional circumstances. It was thought that competition would limit the highest fees to only the best performing universities. However, a BBC survey has shown that more than half the universities questioned will raise their fees to the maximum £9,000.
The effect of competition has been limited, with universities at all levels charging the full amount. Oxford University, currently the best performing university in the country, and Liverpool John Moores, which is ranked 109th, will both be charging £9,000.
Long-term financial modelling carried out in preparation for the increase in fees was based on an average charge of £7,500. As a result it is feared that the rise in fees will create a new and unsustainable funding gap as the government will struggle to provide more student loans.
The introduction of higher fees will also create a funding gap between English and Scottish universities. As previously reported by The Journal, experts have estimated a minimum of a £93 million deficit but it could be as high as £200 million.
The SNP, Liberal Democrat and Labour governments have all claimed that the gap can be bridged by making higher education a priority in Scotland. They have gained the support of NUS Scotland, who said: “The funding gap between Scottish and English universities is much lower than feared and we know that fees would now be a choice, not a necessity.
“Our own analysis has outlined improvements to higher education which would provide £118m a year towards any funding gap for Scottish institutions.”
Sources of funding proposed by education minister Mike Russell include raising fees for students from the rest of the UK from £1,820 to £6,375 and plans to charge EU students.
However Liam Burns, president of NUS Scotland and president-elect of NUS UK, told The Journal that the government could not treat English and European students as "cash cows".
The government has also faced criticism from Scottish universities. Professor Steve Chapman and Sir Timothy O’Shea, principals of Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh, warned Alex Salmond last week that the government had underestimated the size of the funding deficit.
Prof Chapman said: "I think we need some realism here... We will have a gap which will be more than £95m. To just assume that it is dead easy to fix is just not realistic. It is not credible.”