The move to increase university tuition fees in England to £9,250 has been launched – without any announcement from the Department for Education.
The changes to the fees, affecting more than 500,000 students beginning in the autumn, was put onto a government website last week.
Opposition parties have called it “shabby” and “avoiding scrutiny”.
The Department for Education has rejected suggestions it wanted to deflect attention from the increase.
Tuition fees in England have been fixed at £9,000 since 2012 – but the government wants to allow fees to increase each year with inflation, with an initial increase to £9,250 from the autumn.
MPs wanting to scrutinise the plans had been waiting for the government to publish its bid to increase fees.
‘Piling up debts’
But it has emerged that the regulations to enable the higher fees were published last Thursday without being announced on the Department for Education’s website.
Instead the regulations were placed on a government website managed by the National Archives, http://www.legislation.gov.uk, on Thursday, on the day school league tables were published.
Labour’s Gordon Marsden accused the government of trying to “sneak out” the changes – saying that this is the “increase that doesn’t like to speak its name”.
“They are hell-bent on keeping this increase as low-profile as possible as it’s piling up debts on students,” said Mr Marsden.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “This is a shabby little way to announce something, hiding it away in a far-flung corner of a government website.
“This shows the government at their worst, avoiding scrutiny and debate.”
The Department for Education says the intention to increase the fees had been set out in the summer and higher fees will be linked to the quality of teaching.
“Importantly, universities will not be able to increase their fees unless they have passed rigorous quality standards,” says the department’s statement.
“We are determined to make sure that everyone with the potential to benefit from higher education has the opportunity to do so.”
For the first round of increases, almost all universities will be able to charge the higher fee.
It can also apply to existing students, if universities want to apply it to them as well as new students beginning courses in the autumn.
Students will be concerned about the increase in fees – which as well as the headline increase will be subject to up to 30 years of interest on repayments.
But universities had also been worried about the lack of movement on the fee increase – which had been signalled earlier this year.
They have argued that the value of tuition fees has been eroded by inflation and that universities need an increase to be financially sustainable.