House of Commons Library

Cost of university courses in England

Published Wednesday, April 17, 2019

This House of Commons briefing paper analyses the cost of higher education provision and raises issues around the value for money of higher education, the existence of a higher education market and how tuition fee funding is spent by providers.

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  • Most full-time undergraduate courses in England have the same tuition fee: £9,250 for home/EU students.
  • There is a debate around whether this level is too high and should vary across different types of courses and different universities to more accurately reflect their costs, quality and supply and demand for places.
  • With no cap on student numbers there is the potential for competition within the sector, but with nearly all universities charging the maximum fee there is little or no competition by price.
  • 2012 changes to higher education finance resulted in additional funding per student when fees and funding council grants are combined. Universities that charged higher fees were also expected to increase expenditure on initiatives to improve access.

  • Despite increases in fee income the data collected from the sector shows that universities overall make little or no economic surplus on teaching home/EU students.
  • Income from the funding council for ‘high cost’ subjects is aimed at topping up the basic tuition fee income the universities receive to better reflect the higher costs of some courses.
  • Around 40% of students are on ‘high cost’ courses which attract additional public funding of between £250 and £10,100.
  • The ‘model’ used to reflect this is based on analysis of 2012-13 costs. The funding available for these variations in costs is limited: £680 million out of combined fee and funding council income for (home/EU student) teaching of just over £11 billion.

This paper analyses how higher education courses set their tuition fee levels and discusses the cost of provision of courses. It looks into how courses are funded and how tuition fee funding is spent.


Commons Briefing papers CBP-8386

Authors: Susan Hubble; Paul Bolton

Topics: Higher education, Students

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