Colleges could be forced to open schools to charge top HE fees

20th September 2016 at 14:37
colleges open schools maximum £9k tuition fees
Proposals to force universities to engage with the state school system would also apply to colleges, the Department for Education confirms

Colleges could be forced to sponsor or establish new schools in order to be allowed to charge the highest HE tuition fees, TES can reveal.

The government’s Schools That Work For Everyone consultation states the universities which want to charge £9,000 tuition fees could be required to “establish a new school in the state system” or sponsor an academy.

But it has also emerged that the government’s plans would also apply to colleges offering HE in FE.

The consultation document does not mention colleges by name, and only states that the proposals apply to universities. But a Department for Education spokeswoman told TES: “We are consulting on the proposal that all publicly-funded higher education institutions (universities and colleges) [which] wish to charge higher fees… should sponsor an academy or establish a new school.”

The news comes days after TES revealed that the number of colleges charging the highest higher education tuition fees has doubled in 2016-17. Some 19 colleges are charging the maximum £9,000 fees in at least some courses, with the figure set to rise to 26 in 2017-18.

'There’s going to be increasing price sensitivity'

John Widdowson, principal of New College Durham, said some colleges offering higher fees may look at reducing them as students become increasing debt-averse.

“I do think there’s going to be increasing price sensitivity as widening participation students who come to HE increasingly need to look at value for money and local provision.”

Mr Widdowson, who chairs the Mixed Economy Group of colleges offering HE courses, said many colleges already sponsor schools.

“Colleges generally have good relationships with partner schools. It does open up some new possibilities. Not every university is equipped to get that close to the school sector.”

David Corke, director of education and skills policy at the Association of Colleges, said it was seeking clarity around the plans from the DfE.

“If social mobility is the issue, this isn’t the answer, [the plans for universities also] being applied to colleges,” he said. “Colleges are already great at the social mobility piece. It would seem less pertinent to apply this to colleges; we do well in terms of representation of students with [eligible for] free school meals.”

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