£9k university fees ‘a big turn-off’

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MORE than 60 per cent of final year students at Sheffield University say they would not have bothered taking a degree if their annual fees had been £9,000 a year, a survey has found.

Sheffield undergraduates were among more than 12,000 young people questioned at 24 top universities – all of which are planning to charge the maximum possible fees from September 2012.

Sheffield Hallam last week opted for slightly lower fees of £8,500, in line with universities such as Leeds Metropolitan.

The survey by research firm High Fliers found former state school pupils were most put off by higher fees – despite ministers maintaining the system represents a good deal for graduates.

The Government also says higher fees are fair because graduates earn more over their lifetime than non-graduates.

The poll showed 33 per cent would have been put off degree studies by fees of £6,000 per annum and 51 per cent by the maximum £9,000 levy.

Students at Sheffield were among the most concerned, with more than three-fifths saying they would not have embarked on a degree if they had had to pay the maximum fee.

Students at Oxford and Cambridge were least concerned, with 25 and 27 per cent respectively saying they would be put off by the top fee level.

State school pupils were more likely to say they would not have gone into higher education if they had had to pay tuition fees of £9,000.

Some 59 per cent of those who attended comprehensive schools and 51 per cent from grammar schools said they would have been put off, compared to 39 per cent of those educated privately.

The survey also suggests female undergraduates are more likely to have been turned off university by maximum fees than their male peers. And those living in the north of England were most likely to be put off doing a degree by the increased costs.

Martin Birchall of High Fliers said: “This highlights the invidious position universities have been put in by the Government’s decision to cut funding for undergraduate teaching from 2012 and replace it with substantially higher student tuition fees.”

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “Students should not be worried about fees because the evidence shows that the generosity of grants and loans compensates for them.

“Students won’t start repaying their loans until their earnings reach £21,000, up from the £15,000 threshold for today’s graduates.”

But Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, said: “This is yet further proof, that trebling tuition fees will put a great many ambitious talented young people off going to university.”