When the maximum tuition fee threshold was raised from £3,000 to £9,000 by the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government, many predicted this would have an adverse effect on applications and result in more potential students being put off higher education. However, after a very brief dip immediately after the new fees came into effect in September 2012, application for higher education have soared again. This is not to say that the effects of the new fees have been wholly positive, but their introduction has led to a number of interesting new trends in university/higher education.
Despite what critics predicted, the trebling of tuition fees has not made university applications from poorer backgrounds re-think their decision to study for a degree or higher qualification. Students appeared to have bitten their lips and decided that the overall cost of going to university will still reap greater rewards for their career prospect in the long-term. The nature of the student loan repayments has probably helped; under the new system, graduates do not pay back the loan until they are earning £21,000.
Despite the rise in applications from younger students, the new fees have proved to more of an obstacle for mature students who may wish to go into higher education later in life, or post-graduate students considering undertaking a masters or research-based degree; this is bad news in an economy where post-graduates are valuable. Likewise, part-time students seem to have been put off by the change. There has been a 50% drop in applications by part-time students since 2010.
The rise in tuition fees have led to some speculating that we are drifting towards a US style system of even higher fees. For example, the BBC news website recently carried a story about the first UK private medical school opening at the University of Buckingham, charging fees of £36,000. The new course hasn't struggled to find students but there are concerns that the profession will come to be further dominated by richer students. There is also concern that poorer students are not choosing to study at the same institutions as wealthier students.
According to a very recent survey into student satisfaction, students remain unconvinced that they are receiving adequate value for money from their courses. They also feel they are not given enough information about how their tuition fee money is being spent. Students average 12 hours a week in terms of contact time and there is concern that this still isn't enough.
The hike in tuition fees are obviously bringing in extra funding for Britain's universities, who are using the money to further build much needed new buildings and infrastructure. 96% of universities are using the money to improve their buildings.
Middle income families are unable to claim some of the extra perks which can be offered to families on a low income, meaning that they shoulder a greater burden in terms of getting their children through university. This means that, in some cases, some of the biggest losers of the new higher fees are parents, and not the students themselves.