OU announces fees of £5,000/y FTE in England

The OU has just announced its fees from September 2012 for students in England:

For students in England studying with us for the first time from 1 September 2012 there will be a standard fee of £5,000 based on 120 credits of study. This is equivalent to a year’s full-time study at traditional universities.

The OU’s fees structure is being radically simplified. At the moment, courses are priced individually. From September 2012, the fees will be simply proportional: if you study 120 credits, it’s £5,000. If you study 60 credits, it’s £2,500; for 30 credits, £1,250.

The other big change is that OU students will be eligible for the new student loans from that point.

There are transitional arrangements for existing students until August 2017. Students in other nations of the UK – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – will pay a lot less, thanks to the different funding arrangements there.

On the level of the fee

The fee we’ve announced is the result of thorough research and is the lowest fee we are able to charge while ensuring we can continue to offer the quality, flexibility and accessibility for which the OU is renowned.

I believe this. My back-of-an-envelope calculation last November suggested “our annualised fees might need to jump from £1,800 to £4,700”, which is pretty close given the gross over-simplifications I was using.

But more fundamentally, I know and trust that OU staff at all levels have been working very hard on this. Making this decision can’t have been an easy one. Nobody working at the OU wants to have to put up our fees like this.

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There’s coverage by the BBC (currently top of the Education page), the estimable Mike Baker, and Times Higher Education. But obviously the OU’s own stuff is the reliable original source of information.

The THE tweeted:

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…more fees announcements. Less deadly but more upsetting than sharks. OU: £5k FTE

I’m sure the fee level wasn’t set with predatory intent. We want to keep our fees as low as possible, to keep education as open as possible. That’s the whole point of what we do. If minimising the cost to students (and the taxpayer, via the loan subsidy) while maintaining our uncompromisingly high standards of achievement and teaching quality is upsetting some people in the sector … well, maybe they should be upset a bit more.

I’ll take the THE quote charitably and assume that they, like me, find the level of fees charged to students upsetting across the board.

Update: the THE explain that what they found upsetting was “more the constant announcement of fees rather than the OU’s fees (or even fees in general)”.

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Tuition fees and part-timers again

Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills,  has announced some tweaks to the Government’s proposals on student tuition fees.

Leaving aside the broad direction of the policy for a moment (swapping state funding for student-paid fees), one of the huge problems for the OU with the original proposals was the idea that part-time students would only be eligible for loans if they were studying at 33% intensity, equivalent to 40 credit points. As I posted, this came out of the Browne Review and was part of the original Government package. This is a huge problem for the OU because lots of our students study 30 points a year – we have lots of 30 point courses! With the original plan, we’d struggle – trying to rework lots of our existing 30-point courses at 40 pointers, dealing with students who had taken on 60 points when they only had time for 30, etc.

But Vince Cable’s written ministerial statement [.doc] says:

However, discussion with the higher education sector has highlighted that the proposed threshold of 33% intensity for full loan entitlement may inadvertently deprive a significant number of learners from receiving support.  We therefore propose that the level of intensity be reduced to 25%  –  i.e. any eligible student studying for more than a quarter of their time will be eligible for full loan support for their tuition costs.

So they’ve listened, and changed this to 30 points, which is a huge relief. As Vince Cable rather understatedly puts it:

This will better reflect the way that many part time courses are structured.

Too right it will.

Other changes to the package are welcome signs of some responsiveness to criticism: the £21,000 income threshold for paying back loans will be uprated every year in line with wages, not every five years, and the £15,000 threshold for existing loans will rise similarly.

There’s still a massive amount of uncertainty for the OU. And a massive detrimental impact on students. And very bad news for the sector as a whole.