Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Cut-Price Fees Plan for the Degrees No One Wants; CHEAP DEAL TO ATTRACT STUDENTS

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Cut-Price Fees Plan for the Degrees No One Wants; CHEAP DEAL TO ATTRACT STUDENTS

Article excerpt

Byline: TIM MILES

UNIVERSITIES are planning to cut fees for some of their least popular degree courses in a bid to attract more students.

The "discount degree" could be offered for subjects such as electrical engineering and some languages which attract few students. It would mean some courses costing less than [pounds sterling]1,000 a year while more popular ones, such as history, would cost the maximum [pounds sterling]3,000 a year permitted under the Government's new variable fees plan.

Supporters say it shows how variable fees, due to start in 2006, will enable universities to make unpopular courses more attractive to school leavers. But critics claim it could mean applicants worried about repaying huge fees opting for the cheapest course, rather than the one giving them the right skills for a career.

The proposals - being considered by a number of vice-chancellors - are the first real sign that fees will go down as well as up under the Government's plans.

Ministers have seized on it as evidence that some courses will be cheaper than the current across-the-board [pounds sterling]1,125 cost.

They hope it will help them win round rebel Labour backbenchers opposed to the variable fees plan on the grounds that it will deter poor students.

Education Secretary Charles Clarke today embarks on another round of political arm-twisting, addressing dozens of rebels at a meeting and, later, answering questions in front of the Commons education select committee.

The concept of a market in university fees has been central to the Government's higher education reforms.

Ministers believe the knowledge that universities will be able to compete on price will be a major incentive to maintain and increase the quality of courses.

Sources close to Mr Clarke said today: "Most universities are saying they will charge [pounds sterling]3,000 a year but the reality will be different. …

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