Just five colleges are currently in line to charge the highest possible tuition fee for at least some of their courses.
Data obtained from the Office for Students shows that of the 60 colleges currently listed to offer publicly funded HE in 2019-20, only five will have a maximum fee of £9,250: Leeds City College, Myerscough College, New College Durham, South Thames Colleges Group and Sparsholt College.
A further nine have permission to charge up to £9,000 for courses – compared with 14 in 2018-19, and 13 in 2017-18.
The figures are significantly fewer than in 2018-19, when 13 FE colleges were permitted to charge the maximum £9,250 for courses they were offering. However, it is possible the numbers for 2019-20 will rise by the time the academic year starts, with only 60 colleges currently on the list of institutions, compared with 86 in 2018-19 and 76 in 2017-18.
'A different type of HE'
Julian Gravatt, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said the fees that most colleges charged for full-time higher education courses were generally lower than the fees charged by universities “because those colleges offer a different type of higher education”.
He added: “Universities increasingly focus on degree-level HE, whereas 82 per cent of higher nationals are taught in colleges. Colleges generally have lower teaching costs, lower management costs and a non-residential model which means there is less pressure to provide extra facilities.”
Colleges, like universities, have to set out the fees they plan to charge in their access and participation plan. Nick Hillman, director of thinktank HEPI, said institutions chose from a number of approaches to setting their tuition fees. "One way to set fees is to sit down and work out how much it costs to run that course,” he explained. “Or you can look at your competition and set your fees a little lower than theirs.”
Last month, the OfS said that it will, from 2019-20, no longer require colleges and universities to set aside a specific amount of money from their tuition fee income to support students from underrepresented or disadvantaged groups.