THE cost of studying at Sheffield University is set to soar as it announced it is tripling students’ tuition fees to £9,000 a year.
Students starting next autumn will face fees of £27,000 for a three-year degree after the university’s ruling body last night decided to charge the maximum amount, up from the current annual cap of £3,290.
Sheffield has followed the lead of other elite universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, which have also chosen to charge the top figure.
The increase comes after the Government withdrew nearly all direct state funding for university teaching from 2012, giving universities the option of hiking fees to cover the shortfall.
The university said the decision was ‘not taken lightly’, and has promised to support poorer students financially - but nearly two-thirds will still have to take out loans or pay the full amount.
David Blunkett, former Education Secretary and MP for Brightside and Hillsborough, said Sheffield University was ‘between a rock and a hard place’, adding the fee increase was an ‘inevitable outcome’ of the Government’s decision to cut funding.
And Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield expressed concerns that students will be put off going to university by the high cost of courses.
Prof Keith Burnett, Sheffield University’s vice-chancellor, said: “We now face a real challenge not of our choosing, but one which we owe it to future students to accept.
“At a time when many sectors of society are feeling the impact of cuts and young people are increasingly concerned about employment and debt, we must effectively deliver and communicate the positive worth of university.
“We will not do this by underestimating what this investment will mean to graduates, but rather by championing an education which is worthy of that investment.”
Mr Blunkett said: “The government have pulled 80 per cent of the funding for teaching and the only way they can maintain quality is by pulling in the fees from students.
“This in turn is being borrowed by the government to the tune of £10.6 billion. The merry-go-round is a ridiculous example of ideology over common sense.”
He added: “To have to borrow that sort of money to hand to students who then have to pay what was previously funded through general taxation puts the universities in an impossible position.”
“It’s a complete catch-22. It becomes the given that the best universities charge the maximum, then you’re on a spiral which individual universities can’t get off.”
Mr Blomfield said: “The government has given them very little alternative. I fear that students will be deterred from going to university by the fees - not by Sheffield’s fees in particular, I fear students will be deterred from universities across the country.”
The university is offering a ‘comprehensive package’ of financial support for next year’s students, and says more than 6,000 will be eligible for some form of help.
Bursaries will be given to all students whose parents earn less than £42,000, available as either a cash or accommodation discount, and some students will be handed a fee waiver for their first year.
Mature students from low income backgrounds are being offered fee reductions on the university’s foundation programme in combined studies, while students from low participation backgrounds are promised more than £13,000 in aid over a three-year course.
The university says £12 million will be spent on widening participation by 2015, compared to £6.7 million currently.
More than two-thirds of universities setting fees for 2012 intend to charge £9,000. Sheffield Hallam is announcing its decision next Tuesday, the deadline for a figure to be announced.
The Government initially predicted most universities would only charge more than £6,000 in ‘exceptional circumstances’. The Treasury’s financial models are based on universities charging an average of £7,500.