There are still rumblings about the prospect of differential fees, either to reflect costs or return on investment, all in the name of value for money. Universities set different fees for non-regulated courses; I’ve noted before that there’s a substantial range for international students or postgraduates.
Undergraduate fees had been set by each university, but when the government regularised payment of fees by local authorities a simple set of maximum fee bands were set. The standard fee was Band 1, courses with substantial practical activity were Band 2 and clinical courses were Band 3. Courses were allocated to these bands by their UCAS subject code, although exceptional banding could be claimed (and the head of the institution had to sign to say that they’d applied the rules). There were also rules for modular courses, set out by HEFCE as it tried to migrate institutions to a common funding model. When HEFCE moved the fee stream into teaching grant these differentials were preserved in the price groups A-D, where A and B still receive additional teaching grant, now from OfS.
The prospect of differential fees on a three or four band basis seems unlikely. These were funding tools, informing a block grant to a university which could then allocate funds itself. University resource allocation models could add sophistication to the four bands, but subject to constant muttering about whether subjects which found themselves in A-D received a fair allocation. There were some subjects that crossed these bands, which, in some years, resulted in a potential incentive to increase costs to obtain higher funds. (I do wonder how the old band C subjects have done under the £9k fee system – are they still getting higher costs?)
So, how complicated would it be to bring back differential fees? There might be an answer already in action in the DfE in its apprenticeship strand. There had been funding caps, but from August 2018 DfE has allocated each of the 550 apprenticeship standards to one of 30 funding band maximums. The maximum is not supposed to be the price, but only the maximum that can be claimed (it could be cheaper, and less money is claimed, or more expensive so the employer pays more). Potentially the apprenticeship standards are as diverse as higher education courses, but they are a ‘standard’ with specified requirements and an end-point assessment.
The bands are fascinating. Here, for example, is a selection of the standards where the fee band maximum is under £6000.
|HM Armed Forces||HM Forces Serviceperson (Public Services)||2||2500|
|Public Service||Business Fire Safety Advisor||3||2500|
|Adult care||Lead Adult Care Worker||3||3000|
|Adult care||Adult Care Worker||2||3000|
|Aviation||Aviation Ground Specialist||3||3000|
|Healthcare||Senior Healthcare Support Worker||3||3000|
|Logistics and Supply Chain||Supply Chain Operator||2||3000|
|Transport and Logistics||Network Operations||2||3000|
|Public Service||Custody and Detention Officer||3||3500|
|Agriculture, Env. & Animal Care||Pest Control Technician||2||4000|
|Customer service||Customer Service Practitioner||2||4000|
|Customer service||Customer Service Specialist||3||4000|
|Engineering and Manufacturing||Textile Manufacturing Operative||2||4000|
|Agriculture, Env. & Animal Care||Poultry Worker||2||5000|
|Aviation||Aviation Operations Manager||4||5000|
|Food and Drink||Food and Drink Process Operator||2||5000|
|Groundsmanship||Sports Turf Operative||2||5000|
|Hospitality||Senior Chef Production Cooking||3||5000|
|Leadership & Management||Team Leader/Supervisor||3||5000|
|Logistics and Supply Chain||Large Goods Vehicle (LGV) Driver||2||5000|
|Protective Services||Safety Health and Environment Technician||3||5000|
|Public Service||Teaching Assistant||3||5000|
|Transport and Logistics||Cabin Crew||3||5000|
This is differentiation in action. The maximum for Cabin Crew is £2000 more than a Lead Adult Care Worker. The groupings up to £9000 include abattoir workers, retail workers, golf greenkeepers, and maritime caterers. The group from £9000 to £27,000 includes the degree apprenticeships and other programmes at levels 6 and 7, but also some high cost apprenticeships. Here are some of them:
|Accounting||Internal Audit Practitioner||4||9000|
|Catering and hospitality||Baker||2||9000|
|Construction||Painter and Decorator||2||9000|
|Hair and Beauty||Hair Professional||2||9000|
|Management Consultancy||Junior Management Consultant||4||9000|
|Public Service||Academic Professional||7||9000|
|Public Service||Police Community Support Officer||4||9000|
|Digital Industries||IT Technical Salesperson||3||12000|
|Bespoke tailoring||Bespoke Tailor and Cutter||5||15000|
|Bus, Coach and HGV||Bus and Coach Engineering Technician||3||18000|
|Digital Industries||Cyber Intrusion Analyst||4||18000|
|Building and Construction||Architect (degree)||7||21000|
|Engineering and Manufacturing||Organ Builder||3||24000|
|Creative and design||Watchmaker||3||27000|
|Leadership & Management||Chartered Manager Degree||Apprenticeship||6||27000|
Although Butcher and Baker have made it onto the list, there’s no separate category for candlestick maker yet. Academic professionals will note the maximum for your apprenticeship is £9000 (there are full details on the Institute of Apprentices site).
Remember, these somewhat arbitrary bands are not the price of the course, although it’s the maximum that the levy can be used for, a provider and an employer can negotiate a higher price. Even more importantly the apprentice cannot be charged. As the government encourages the value for money argument for undergraduates, the prospect of a complex differentiation actually seems less likely.
Students might be grumpy about their fee being £9250, but what if the students in the next classroom are paying £7750 for something similar? Someone must have decided there’s a rationale for the £3000 difference between a boatbuilder and an organ builder. Is that just on cost, or on what the market will bear for the employers (surely that’s an aspect why adult care workers have such a low band). But assumptions about employment pipelines might not work: assumptions that an apprentice watchmaker may stay in that job in a way that might not apply to a student on a BA in Horology.
It’s not obvious how differential fees can be applied fairly to a complex higher education system – the experience of bands for apprenticeship standards shows how complex this would be and they’re not even fees.