Update: 21st July 2011 – the OU fees for September 2012 onwards have now been published – see this article for details.
The OU has been silent so far on what it intends to charge for its courses post September 2012, and there’s no early end to this silence in sight.
We now know what the majority of full-time institutions are looking to charge and it’s well above the £7,500 mean that the government worked out its funding calculations on (£8,665.03 at the moment, according to Times Higher Education.) It looks like OFFA are going to have their work cut out over the next few weeks and months in deciding if the programmes these institutions are suggesting will widen participation actually cut the mustard.
However, we don’t know what the OU is planning to charge. One reason for this is because part-time study doesn’t currently fall under the remit of OFFA (apparently, the delayed white paper is due to change that.) So anyone hoping for an announcement soon as to what OU course fees will be post September 2012 is probably going to be disappointed. This blog post on fourinten.org sets out the OU’s position – anyone thinking of OU study as a way of escaping higher fees will have to wait until the spring of next year to find out what the actual fees will be.
Now, in some ways, this may be a good thing. If the OU is able to continue to offer its courses at around a half to two-thirds of what it costs to study full-time at a traditional university, then I think the future for the OU is relatively bright.
At traditional universities, 2011-12 tuition fees for most full-time undergraduate courses will be £3,375.
At the OU, courses have variable charges, but a ‘typical’ 60 credit course looks as if it will be in the £700 to £1,165 range (e.g. DD101, E303 are £700; DD307 is £770 and DD303 is £1,165), excluding undergraduate courses in Law which look to be really poor value at around £2,130 for a 60 credit course such as W201, W300 or W301.
So, the equivalent of a final year psychology degree (DD307 + DD303) is currently £1,935 – just 57.3% of the fees of a traditional university. If the OU is able to hold its fees in this range (and taking the THE average of £8,665.03 as the post September 2012 benchmark), then we should expect the equivalent fee to be around £4,965 (or just under £2,000 for DD307 and just under £3,000 for DD303.)
However, this is all just speculation. What I’ve not factored in is the disproportionately large cut that the OU is likely to suffer in its HEFCE grant allocation compared to many traditional universities. It was, of course, already suffering through the withdrawal of ELQ funding introduced by the last government (which David Willetts opposed in 2008) but is not going to be reversed.
It could also be possible that the OU decides to increase its fees beyond what it strictly needs to provide its current courses. After all, it will need to ensure that the perceived value of an OU degree is maintained in the HE market that the government has created, otherwise students won’t opt for it in the future – a £5,000 a year degree can’t possibly be as good as one costing £9,000 a year, surely? (Note: I might not actually believe that last sentence, but it’s pretty clear that some universities do.)
There are also the unanswered questions of whether OU students will in future be forced into accepting government loans for courses (even if, like me, you don’t want one) and so increase the headline cost of study still further (a loan at RPI+3% is not good value for someone with a good credit rating!); the continuing viability of some existing OU qualifications (for example, there’s still no word on if the social sciences faculty will be able to offer MSc/MA qualifications in the future); whether or not students embarking on (or part way through) study for their OU degree in 2012 will have their fees calculated on the current basis (as will happen for those on full-time courses) or if they’ll have to pay increased fees immediately … the list goes on.
The OU is a great institution. The standard of teaching and course materials has been far higher than almost everything I experienced on my first degree at Warwick University in the mid 1980s. But if you’re hoping simply to avoid higher fees post September 2012 by taking this route – beware. You won’t know the real costs until the spring of next year.