The Government has been warned against handing universities 'a blank cheque' after an independent review recommended universities in England should be allowed to charge any level of tuition fees.
Lord Browne's review of higher education and student funding suggests that the current cap on tuition fees of £3,290 should be removed to create a free market in university provision.
"Under these plans, universities can start to vary what they charge but it will be up to the students whether they choose the university," said Lord Browne. "The money will follow the student who will follow the quality."
Students only started paying tuition fees in recent years, but these were capped amidst fears that poorer candidates would be deterred from applying. If the cap is removed, the same argument is certain to reappear.
But in order to counter such concerns, the review suggests that the loans that students take out in order to cover their fees should only have to be repaid once they are earning at least £21,000.
The current threshold for the repayment of loans is £15,000.
Despite this concession, Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, believes the review would leave some students effectively having to gamble with their future.
"If adopted, Lord Browne's review would hand universities a blank cheque and force the next generation to pick up the tab for devastating cuts to higher education," Mr Porter said. "The only thing students and their families would stand to gain from higher fees would be higher debts.
"A market in course prices between universities would increase pressure on students to make decisions based on cost rather than academic ability or ambition. Those already feeling the pinch will clearly be unwilling to take such a gamble and face being priced out of the universities that would opt to charge sky-high fees.
"There is no clear assurance that a hike in fees would improve student choice or quality and the evidence since fees tripled four years ago shows that neither student satisfaction nor quality has improved. Universities have not made the case for what they would do with more."
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