Five figure tuition fees will be the norm by the end of the decade, with most universities expected to charge students £10,000 a year, according to a major report published on Thursday.
That's the conclusion of an independent inquiry into the student loans system in the wake of the new government's decision to allow universities with “good quality” teaching to raise fees in line with inflation every year.
The decision to axe maintenance grants announced in George Osborne's latest Budget already gave rise to fears that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds would be put off from considering university. Now academics predict the rise in fees could be the last straw.
Will Hutton, economics expert and chairman of the Independent Commission on Fees - set up by education charity the Sutton Trust, said:
Debt is likely to become a bigger issue. Under the current system, nearly three-quarters of students will fail to clear their student loans before they are written off after 30 years and the large majority will still be paying off their debts into their forties - figures that will increase with the abolition of grants and increase in fees.
A recent ComRes survey found that 68 per cent of current sixth formers are worried about high tuition fees, and 58 per cent about their ability to repay their loans after they finish studying at university.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills told the i newspaper:
We are committed to giving everyone the opportunity to get a degree, regardless of their background or ability to pay. Students will get more money in their pockets... The Budget was clear that only institutions offering high quality teaching will be able to increase tuition fees in line with inflation from 2017/18.
At present, most universities are charging the full £9,000 a year for courses and - depending on how strictly the Chancellor’s proviso that “good quality” teaching universities will be able to raise fees - it is likely that most will want to take advantage of his offer.