Report Overview

This is the final report of the Independent Commission on Fees, which was created in 2011 to analyse the effect of increased tuition fees on students. The report finds that, while the number of students applying to university has not been significantly affected by the new fee regime, certain groups within the system, including part-time and mature students, have been adversely affected. There is also a continuing and concerning gap between the recruitment of students from less advantaged and more advantaged backgrounds, in favour of the latter. This is especially true at the nation’s most selective universities. The report recommends that the Office for Budget Responsibility investigate the current student loan system, especially in the wake of funding changes announced in the Summer Budget 2015.

Key Findings

  • This is the final report of the Commission, which was set up in 2011 to monitor the impact of the new fee regime for English Universities, introduced with effect from the 2012 academic year.
  • After a fall in applications and acceptances in the year of introduction, the recruitment of school leavers to higher education has bounced back, and no obviously detrimental change to recruitment patterns has been picked up.
  • There has however been a significant and sustained fall in part time students and mature students. We believe that the new fee regime is a major contributory factor.
  • Recent polling for the Sutton Trust conducted by ComRes and Ipsos MORI confirms that finance and student debt remain key concerns for young people.
  • There are significant longer term issues over the equity and sustainability of the new arrangements, especially with regard to the loan system.
  • Recruitment of school leavers from less advantaged backgrounds has shown some improvement, but the recruitment gap, especially at more selective universities, remains unacceptably high.
  • Less advantaged households are also seeing a widening gender gap, with women now almost 50% more likely to gain a place.


  • The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) should conduct an investigation into whether the current student loan system provides value for money for both the student and general tax payer.
  • The Government should be extremely wary of substantive increases in fees or removing the cap on fees completely.
  • The Commons Select Committee should investigate the reasons for the severe decline in mature and part-time students.
  • There must be better co-ordination of university outreach work and effective use of evidence in spending the £800 million from fees used for access work.