Raising tuition fees during cost-of-living crisis ‘not going to happen’ – Halfon

His comments come after Lord Johnson of Marylebone warned that preventing fees rising with inflation has led to defunding of universities.

Raising the cap on tuition fees in England during a cost-of-living crisis is not going to happen “in a million years”, the universities minister has suggested.

Robert Halfon, minister for skills, apprenticeships and higher education, told Times Higher Education (THE) there was “no way” that he was going to advocate increasing tuition fees.

His comments come after Universities UK (UUK), which represents 140 institutions, called for a “national conversation” on higher education funding amid pressures on university budgets as a result of inflation.

The Government raised the cap on university tuition fees in England to £9,000 a year in 2012 and it has been fixed at £9,250 since 2017.

The tuition fee cap is set to be frozen until at least 2024-25.

UUK has said the £9,250 fee for English universities is now worth only £6,600 in 2012-13 prices and high inflation will reduce its value further in the future.

In June, former universities minister Lord Johnson of Marylebone warned that preventing student tuition fees rising with inflation has led to the “progressive defunding” of universities.

In an interview with THE, Mr Halfon said: “If you look overall, the vast majority of universities are in good financial health – that doesn’t mean there aren’t some [that are not] and I know OfS [the Office for Students] is investigating some … and I completely get challenges that are being faced.

“But if you look at the research grant, the loans, the money we give – £1.5 billion Strategic Priorities Grant plus the £750 million on teaching facilities [additional Government funding announced last year] – universities get £40 billion a year.”

Mr Halfon, MP for Harlow in Essex, added: “If you compare that to the FE sector over the years – although we’re increasing skills funding by £3.8 billion – given the difficult financial constraints we have, I can’t go to my constituents in Harlow and say, ‘By the way, on top of everything else, on top of all the other cost-of-living challenges, we’re going to increase your tuition fees’. It’s just not going to happen, not in a million years.

“I just think we have to be real, that we have to live in the world as it is, which is an incredibly difficult one faced by cost-of-living challenges.”

On the Government’s plans for student number controls on “poor quality” degree courses, Mr Halfon said he believed people would be “encouraged to go to university because they will know that if they are going to do a [degree] course they are going to have a good outcome”.

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