Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills
In March, I made Regulations, following a vote by the Assembly, which established a new role for the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) in approving and enforcing fee plans submitted by institutions in Wales in receipt of public funding for higher education. Institutions will only be able to charge tuition fees for higher education courses up to £9,000 per annum from 2012/13, if they can demonstrate a commitment to promoting higher education and equality of access to higher education. Those institutions which wish to charge tuition fees above the basic amount of £4,000 for full-time undergraduate courses must submit their fee plans to HEFCW for approval. I expect HEFCW to operate a robust assessment of the content and quality of institutional fee plans.
The decision to set the basic tuition fee at £4,000 from 2012/13 reflects the importance the Welsh Government places on the contribution which higher education makes to social justice. In addition, I continue to view the promotion of higher education as a fundamental aspect of institutions' work. It is my expectation that institutions will work positively to address these agendas through the new fee planning arrangements.
The content and duration of fee plans are prescribed by the Student Fees (Approved Plans) (Wales) Regulations 2011. I have issued guidance to HEFCW which sets out my expectation that the Council will work with the higher education sector to agree challenging targets for the recruitment, retention and achievement of students from disadvantaged groups, as well as establishing robust monitoring and reporting arrangements in readiness for the first round of fee plans to be submitted in respect of the 2012/13 academic year. Delivery against fee plan targets will be monitored and enforced by HEFCW and the Council is empowered to take decisive action if institutions do not meet the requirements of their fee plans.
Institutions’ fee plans must include details of the limit which the fees of each course will not exceed (subject to the £9,000 maximum) and approved plans must be published to ensure that information about individual course costs is available to prospective students. HEFCW has been requested to scrutinise carefully any intention by institutions to charge fees above the basic amount.
Students will rightly have higher expectations if higher fees are charged. I expect to see improvements in the student experience. My guidance also makes clear that the student body should be consulted in the fee planning process. It lays out my expectation that institutions should engage actively with their institutional student unions in drawing up fee plans and that HEFCW should monitor this engagement. My guidance instructed HEFCW to consult with the National Union of Students Wales before setting the overall criteria for fees plans. HEFCW has in turn issued its own guidance to institutions on the arrangements for developing and submitting fee plans for approval.
HEFCW’s guidance requires institutions to submit their fee plans to the Council by 31 May. Decisions on the approval of those plans will be made by 11 July. Institutions may apply for a review of HEFCW’s decision on certain grounds. My officials are putting in place arrangements for a panel to be appointed to deal with any such applications.