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University fees boss says cost rose too quickly

University of Leeds

University of Leeds

The new vice chancellor of the University of Leeds has claimed the Government raised tuition fees too far but he does not expect another increase in the next Parliament.

Before taking over at Leeds University Sir Alan Langlands was the chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) – the body tasked with making the new funding system work.

Tuition fees have been almost trebled to a maximum of £9,000-a-year in a move which saw large cuts in the amount of public money universities receive for teaching. Students who began their degree courses in 2012/13 were the first to be hit with the higher fees.

Sir Alan told the Yorkshire Post that in his role as the head of 
HEFCE he had argued with the Government that the level of fee being charged was too high and that he wanted a “ better balance” to have been struck between the cost being paid by the student and the public purse.

However, he said he did not expect the next Government to want to pursue any further increase in the next Parliament – regardless of the outcome of the next General Election. Sir Alan added: “I said at the time that I thought £9,000-a-year was too high and that the increase in fees would be too sharp.”

He said that he argued his corner with the Government but that the need to deliver large scale savings in the Comprehensive Spending Review in 2010 had driven the need to cut teaching funding to universities and increase fees.

He added: “I think it will be difficult for the next Government to increase fees. They will see the difficulties it caused this time.”

Students face fees of up to £9,000-a-year but the initial cost is met by loans from the Treasury paid to universities. Students only begin to start paying back their fees after they have graduated and started earning above £21,000.

Sir Alan joined Leeds University in October after four years leading HEFCE. He replaced the outgoing vice chancellor Professor Michael Arthur who had led the university since 2004.

Sir Alan said: “I was coming to the end of a five year contract at HEFCE and I didn’t particularly want to go into a General Election period in the job but there were of course also many positive reasons for wanting to come to Leeds. It is a great university with a strong set of values and a broad range of disciplines.”

He said the university had a good relationship with its student body and was also well placed to do “exciting interdisciplinary research” because of a willingness of academics from different departments and backgrounds within the university to work together.

Sir Alan said that part of his job would be to keep the courses on offer at the university under review and ensure that the institution could respond to changes in student demand.

Having worked for HEFCE for the past four years Leeds University believe Sir Alan is well placed to lead the institution. When his appointment was first announced last year the university’s pro chancellor Linda Pollard said that he had “an unrivalled knowledge of the sector”.

Sir Alan said that he was now better placed to run a university having worked for HEFCE since 2009. Before this he was the vice chancellor at Dundee University.

Before entering the higher education sector, Sir Alan had a career in health service management, culminating in six years as chief executive of the NHS.

He was knighted in 1998 for his services to the NHS, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and an Honorary Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.

Sir Alan’s arrival as the vice chancellor at the university has coincided with the institution launching a campaign to raise £60m through donations.

The Leeds University Campaign builds on work to bring in more than 10,000 gifts to the institution in recent years. It was formally launched as the university announced that it has received its biggest ever donation of £9m from Lord Laidlaw which will help to pay for a library which is already under construction.

Sir Alan Langlands said the campaign would centre on supporting work in five themes: students; human health; climate change, global society and arts and culture.

Money raised through donations will pay for research into crucial health challenges such as heart disease, dementia and tissue repair; support work to reduce the carbon footprint of major cities and to ensure the security of vital resources such as food and water. Sir Alan said that increasing the amount the university raised through donations would allow it more freedom to carry out interdisciplinary research.

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