As a part of the on-going tuition fee review, the Government Department of Business, Innovation and Skills is considering a scheme whereby students who waive their right to student grants and loans will be offered free university education.
There is a strong demand from universities for a rise in the cap placed upon tuition fees for home students, which will be set at £3,225 next year. Some universities have suggested that a rise in the cap to £7,000 is needed in order for universities to continue providing quality education and research, an idea previously supported by Imperial College Rector, Sir Roy Anderson.
The Government is currently trying to solve a university funding crisis, with 40,000 more students applying to university this year alone, including a rise of almost 20% in Mechanical Engineering applicants.
They believe that by waiving their right to financial support, students will be able to avoid being in large amounts of debt at the end of their degrees and encourage poorer students to take up university places.
However there has been some opposition to the move, with many groups claiming that the scheme would limit choice for poorer students and favour richer families. This is evident when you consider that the average price of a year's accommodation in Imperial College halls of residence is over £4,800 for the coming academic year. This is a cost which the majority of students couldn't meet without the financial support packages from the government, so the scheme would encourage more students to live at home and attend their local university, despite any other factors.
James Turner, from the Sutton Trust - a charity which promotes "social mobility" through education, has said that "Higher education should be available to all, regardless of their ability to pay and their willingness to take on debt".
Wes Streeting, President of the NUS, has said that "those who can pay to study at an institution elsewhere have the traditional experience, the moving away, the gaining of friends and independence", but that poorer students "could end up stuck in communities they grew up in".
General Secretary of the University and Colleges Union, Sally Hunt, agreed with Streeting, saying, "We want students to have access to decent local courses, but the facts are that these plans will see students with the necessary resources choosing where and what they wish to study and those from poorer backgrounds denied the opportunity to move away".
Chair-elect of the 1994 Group, Professor Paul Wellings, said "we will be cautious of any new proposals that result in cut-price, lower-quality degrees of a lower value to students".
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills insisted that the ideas were speculative and not necessarily a part of its final proposals, saying, "As part of the higher education framework we are considering a number of measures to increase access to higher education and maintain our sector's world class status. Ahead of its publication any discussion of the proposals it will contain are purely speculative".