Last week was a nightmare for the government on tuition fees. It started on Monday with the off-quota fiasco that made the government look as if it was preoccupied with the privileged. By Wednesday it had moved on to the chaos of cut price clearing. There were three days of widespread and unrelentingly negative media coverage.
But then the fightback got under way.
On Thursday, the Telegraph was given the idea of more places at top unis for students with AAB grades – a sure fire hit with parents of kids at private schools. And on Saturday, the Times reported (£) the stunning news that, “One in three universities is being refused initial permission to charge up to £9,000 a year as the higher education watchdog flexes its muscles.”
The Times story was a triple delight for Coalition ministers like David Willetts and Vince Cable. The reviled Office for Fair Access was proving it did have teeth after all. The financial black hole at the Department of Business Innovation and Skills triggered by the high fees was disappearing. And top unis were getting a kicking for failing to admit enough poor students.
There was only one problem. The story wasnt true.
On Monday, Martin Harris, the director of OFFA, sent a letter to the Times saying, “We have not yet had discussions of any kind with any university, let alone refused any universities initial permission – a point we made abundantly clear to your journalist…. Your report that one in three universities is being refused initial permission to charge up to £9000 a year is therefore without any foundation whatsoever.”
Four days later, the Times has yet to include Harriss brief letter in the paper. Maybe it thinks the letter is boring and inconsequential.
Or maybe the paper just doesnt want its readers to wonder if itll print any old rubbish the government gives it, even if it isnt true.
Full text of Harriss letter…
Your article (‘Universities are failing to prove that higher fees are justified’, 14 May) is completely incorrect. Universities and colleges wanting to charge fees of more than £6,000 in 2012-13 submitted their access agreements to OFFA last month. These set out the measures they will be putting in place to sustain or improve access and student retention.
We are now in the very early stages of assessing these agreements to make sure that they are satisfactory. We have not yet had discussions of any kind with any university, let alone refused any universities initial permission – a point we made abundantly clear to your journalist. We are not planning to provide further comment before 11 July when we will be announcing the outcomes. Your report that one in three universities is being refused initial permission to charge up to £9000 a year is therefore without any foundation whatsoever.
Sir Martin Harris
Office for Fair Access