Under current government plans, annual student numbers are capped to keep costs down, with English universities allowed to charge UK students a maximum annual fee of £9,000 from 2012, which graduates do not have to start paying until they are earning £21,000 a year.
However, Willetts suggested universities could increase the numbers of British students by charging some the full annual fees of up to £28,000 a year for the most expensive courses, payable up front, who would not then require the support of the taxpayer.
The changes would give more students the chance to attend their first choice university, a suggestion that many see as enabling the children of the wealthiest parents to buy their way in. At present, the government sets a quota of undergraduate places that English universities are allowed to offer each year.
How will it increase social mobility?
David Willetts, the universities minister, has argued the extra places will boost social mobility by freeing up more publicly subsidised places for undergraduates from poorer homes….
Willetts told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “People are coming to us with innovative ideas about how you could liberalise the system so it was possible for extra people to get to university. These are people who we wish to go to university and who sadly are being turned away at the moment just because there aren’t enough places.
“We would need to have a set of criteria, if this went ahead, that absolutely passed muster as improving social mobility.
“I start from the view that, by and large, more people going to university is a good thing for social mobility. Anything that we did if this does go forward would have to pass the test of improving social mobility, not reversing it.”
As The Guardian notes: “The move is being considered at a time when the government is cutting 10,000 publicly funded university places”. So the proposal is to cut publicly funded places, but allow universities to create extra high-priced places for the wealthy. And if you’re a Tory, that looks like social mobility.