Doubts have been raised over the truth of the Vice Chancellor’s claim that “At Southampton we have not actively sought an increase in student fees”. Following an interview with deputy vice chancellor Debra Humphris, the accuracy of this claim can be called into question.
The Russell Group, which represents 20 leading UK universities, of which the University is a part, made submissions to the Browne Review arguing for the cap on fees to be removed completely. They have also campaigned publicly for a rise in fees, with Director General, Dr Wendy Piatt, last month stating that, “Rowing back from Browne and re-imposing a cap would be a real waste of an opportunity to allow our leading universities to provide the high-quality education that their students deserve”.
With this in mind it is difficult to see how the claim that “At Southampton we have not actively sought an increase in student fees” can be seen as accurate. The claims were made in two seperate statements, in the aftermath of the Browne Review and Comprehensive Spending Review, which have since been removed from the internet by the University. However a copy of one is still available here.
When posed with the question in an interview with the Wessex Scene, Debra Humphris responded: “What we have sought along with the rest of the Russell Group is the appropriate funding of UK Higher Education. The Government announced a significant reduction [around £3 billion]in funding for Higher Education in the recent Spending Review. In this context Browne’s proposals present a viable way of funding higher education while maintaining current levels of participation.”
She further added that the Russell Group, “is concerned with the pressures its research-intensive universities face and have taken an approach to help secure the strength and importance of research-intensive universities in the UK economy”.
When asked whether this approach involved placing pressure on the Government to completely remove the cap on fees, Professor Humphris said: “At the moment there is no further information on whether the Government accepts all the proposals in the Browne Review, it would be premature to speculate until we better understand the Government’s final proposals.”
Professor Humphris further added: “It’s worth restating that under the proposals, students are still not required to pay fees when they join the University and indeed throughout their time at Southampton. The proposed student loan system is based on repayment of loans once students have graduated and are earning over £21,000.”
At no point did she deny that the University of Southampton joined the Russell Group in its views on fees. In fact, in admitting that, “what we have sought along with the rest of the Russell Group is the appropriate funding of UK Higher Education”, it would appear that the University followed the policy of the group, a key part of which was higher fees.
Given this admission, it is difficult to understand how and why the Vice Chancellor was able to tell students that an increase in fees was not sought by this University.