England students face higher fees
London – Students in England face having to pay higher university tuition fees under a controversial shake-up proposed in a report out on Tuesday, a week before the government unveils drastic public spending cuts.
The report, led by former BP chief executive John Browne, aims to make the higher education sector more competitive as investment in English universities lags behind foreign rivals.
But it has sparked fury from students and academics.
The University and College Union, which represents lecturers, said the proposals would be "the final nail in the coffin for affordable higher education".
And the National Union of Students (NUS) added they would mean poorer students being "priced out of the universities that would opt to charge sky-high fees".
Under the report's proposals, the current £3 290 cap on the amount which universities charge for tuition fees would be scrapped.
Students would take out loans to cover the cost of their tuition but would not have to start paying it back until they graduate and are earning more than £21 000 per year.
A degree is an investment
"Our proposals create the financial scope for higher education to expand," the report said.
"Students should only pay towards the cost of their education once they are enjoying the benefits of that education. A degree is a good investment."
The proposals could cause splits in Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government – the junior Liberal Democrat partners have previously campaigned against tuition fees.
While the study was commissioned long before the current squeeze on public spending, it noted that Britain's current economic situation would "add urgency to make funding sustainable".
There are currently record numbers of people enrolled in higher education in Britain and three English universities – Oxford, Cambridge and London – are regularly ranked in the world's top ten.
A large number of students studying in Britain come from overseas – the number of visas issued to them and their dependents has risen to more than 300 000 this year and research suggests they generate billions of pounds a year for the British economy.
But the government has announced a crackdown on the number of people arriving on student visas as part of a tightening of its immigration system.