Today, news broke of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales’ decision to allow all 13 Universities and colleges in Wales to charge £9,000 per year in tuition fees. The news comes as no surprise to some of us here at The Siren, and has been condemned by NUS Wales. Roisin O’Connor puts the higher fees into perspective…

by Roisin O’Connor

Swansea University's Student Union at November 2010's demo - picture courtesy of Ceri Parker

9k is now officially the way every Welsh university is taking. Despite initially rejecting Welsh institutions’ fee plans, HEFCW has today given the go ahead to universities including Swansea to charge triple the amount for full time undergraduate courses. While Welsh students will be shielded from the raised fees wherever they choose to study in the UK, any students from outside Wales will be charged this amount. As HEFCW stated last month, there are certain targets Welsh universities will need to reach in order to promote and widen access to Higher Education.

Students have stated time and time again the 9k fee will potentially deter many prospective students from attending university. Lilian Levesque, a French teacher working in the UK, told The Sirens he had already noticed a significant change in attitude towards university in students at his local comprehensive school.

“As a Year 11 form tutor, it was clear this year that students were very concerned by the rising cost of their potential education at university. Some students decided to change their plans and opt for more vocational options whereas before they were happy with the prospect of going to university. Those from poorer backgrounds told me they had the impression that university was not for them as the sums of money for a degree talked about seemed enormous to them.”

Now that there is no doubt of where Welsh universities stand with fees, there is the expectation this change in attitude could develop further. As for students already at University, there was a varied response towards the prospect of 9k fees. We asked several students whether they’d have planned to attend university paying triple the fees, and for some, their plans would not have changed. For example, Evelyne Thomas, a student of English with Creative Writing commented she would still have attended Swansea, saying: “You would have to pay back the fees in small installments in the same way you would with the current fees, making it less noticeable, as well as the fact that you don’t have to start paying the loan back until you are earning more than £21,000 per year.”

However others could not quite face the prospect of such a significant amount of debt. One such student was Aungshu Rahman, who is studying Aerospace Engineering. She told us: “I wouldn’t be able to afford it, not even with the option of student finance. I would just be in debt for the rest of my life.” While students are not required to pay fees up front, the prospect of a significant amount of debt is one which weighs heavy on many a prospective students’ mind.
This was something echoed by SUSU President, Luke James, who told The Siren before today’s announcement the UK government’s plans are “totally unsustainable.”

“Few students will be able to pay 9k up front each year so will apply for loans and shift the cost back onto the state until they are able to make repayments. This system is not built to last and we may see just two or three cohorts of students paying 9k before we see a total market in fees where universities and colleges can charge any fee.”

While NUS Wales has wholeheartedly condemned HEFCW’s decision, for some students this announcement was inevitable. Nevertheless, Welsh universities will need to work hard to ensure students feel they are getting the most for their money as well as competing with their English counterparts.

What are your reactions to the news? Was it as expected or did you think there was a possibility Welsh universities would charge less? Give us a shout via the usual means, as always, we’re all ears.