The University of St Andrews Court ruled this month to raise tuition fees to £9000 a year for students from the rest of the UK (RUK), making St Andrews Britain’s most expensive university alongside Edinburgh.
The rise in fees, set to face students enrolling at the University in 2012/13, brings the cost of a university degree to £36,000 for undergraduate students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Students from Scotland and other European Union nations continue to be exempt from fees.
Michael Russell, Scottish Education Secretary, had announced in June that universities north of the border would be able to raise fees for RUK students to £9000, following the UK government’s decision to introduce a £9000 fee cap last year.
St Andrews Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, defended the decision, saying that St Andrews was “not a wealthy institution” and that “in spite of our age and our international standing our endowment is remarkably small. Quite simply, we cannot afford not to charge £9,000 per annum.”
Richardson acknowledged the dramatic change in fee status for RUK students but was equally adamant that the £9000 per annum is “a very good deal and does not cover the cost of the education provided nor does it reflect the lifelong benefits accrued by our students.”
The University has also announced a bursary package that will allow entrant undergraduate students from the RUK whose household income is less than £42,600 to avoid upfront tuition costs.
The rise in fees has proved highly controversial. St Andrews’ Student Union Association President, Patrick O’Hare, said, “We do not accept the argument that an almost fivefold increase in RUK fees over one year is reasonable or necessary.
“Rather than matching our competitors, we now surpass them in fee levels, with a St Andrews degree becoming more expensive than Oxford or Cambridge. An historic chance to defy our elitist image has been lost.”
Mr. O’Hare also declared that provisions for bursaries “do not… go far enough” for students living in what he now believes to be Britain’s most expensive town for RUK students.
Niall Scott, the University’s Director of Corporate Communications, responded to O’Hare’s arguments:
“I don’t think you’ll find that anyone in St Andrews wanted this situation,” Scott told The Saint.
“Fees for RUK students have been forced upon us as a consequence of decisions made first by the Westminster Parliament, then the Scottish government,” said Scott.
“Even our own student sabbatical officers, who have argued so passionately and eloquently against fee hikes, proposed at University Court that St Andrews should set the RUK fee level at £8000.
“There is therefore an acceptance, however reluctant and however much opposed, that fees are a coming reality,” he concluded.
The decision will affect the 36% of St Andrews’ undergraduate body which hails from the rest of the UK.