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Tuition Fee (Transparency and Accountability)

Volume 592: debated on Tuesday 10 February 2015

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require universities to report to those paying tuition fees on how those fees are treated and spent; and for connected purposes.

The aim is that letters should be sent by vice-chancellors and governors explaining in detail how they spend their students’ tuition fees. We have to remember that students are the universities’ clients and customers. They are paying a significant amount of money to receive a service. I firmly believe that students deserve accountability from their institutions.

As you know, Mr Speaker, Plymouth is the largest urban conurbation west of Bristol, with a population of 256,384, and it is a significant seat for higher education. Its institutions include Plymouth university, Plymouth college of art and the university of St Mark and St John, commonly known as Marjon. Plymouth university also includes the Peninsula school of medicine and dentistry, but this is split between Plymouth and Exeter universities, with a total of 1,500 students. The Plymouth sites are shared between my constituency and Plymouth, Moor View, which is represented by the shadow Minister for Defence, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck).

Plymouth university is the 15th largest university in the UK, with over 28,625 full and part-time students, including the medical students. I understand that 50% of Plymouth university’s income comes from tuition fees. Plymouth college of art, which is soon to become a university, caters for about 1,500 students. Marjon, also in the Moor View seat, caters for 2,665 students. The total undergraduate and graduate student population within Plymouth is 32,790—just below 13% of the city’s population.

I am very conscious that students in England are paying up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees, and that the vast majority must rely on student loans. It should be borne in mind that the Bill would not affect students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, where university policy is devolved. I tabled it because I believe that accountability is essential, and that all university students throughout England should be allowed to know how their money is spent, including the money spent on development, facilities and staffing.

In last year’s annual grant letter, my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and my right hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr Willetts), who was then Minister for Universities and Science, expressed concern about the substantial upward drift of the salaries of some top managements at our universities. I believe that if universities were more accountable to their students, they would ensure that they could justify that expenditure. According to Times Higher Education, the best-paid 10 vice-chancellors of English universities earned between £365,432 and £480,000 in 2012-13. I am delighted to report that none of Plymouth’s universities features in the top 10. Members may wish to compare those academic fat cats’ salaries with the £142,500—including his parliamentary salary—that I understand the Prime Minister earns for running the whole country, rather than just one university. Needless to say, those amounts do not include any redundancy money that might have had to be paid. Last year, one university paid 25 members of staff more than £100,000, despite having spent £3.9 million on redundancy and restructuring costs.

I am convinced that if students keep an eagle eye on what university managements are spending, the institutions will be forced to make better use of the considerable funds with which their student populations provide them. I therefore propose that all university governors and vice-chancellors should not only send every student who is paying tuition fees a detailed letter—as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has begun to do for taxpayers—but give students an opportunity to question how the money is being spent. This Government have taken the lead in putting transparency, openness and accountability at the heart of this parliamentary term, and the English universities should follow.

Question put and agreed to.


That Oliver Colvile, John McDonnell, Chris Heaton-Harris, Chloe Smith, Mark Garnier, Jonathan Evans, Mr Andrew Turner, Philip Davies, Mr Brian Binley, Mr Andrew Love, Sheryll Murray and Mr Brooks Newmark present the Bill.

Oliver Colvile accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 March and to be printed (Bill 173).