Higher education institutions in Wales are only able to charge fees above the 'basic' maximum (£4000) if they have an approved plan under Part 3 of HEA 2004 in place.
The requirements for the contents of plans are set out in section 33 of HEA 2004 and in the Student Fees (Approved Plans) (Wales) Regulations 2011 (SI 2011/884).
A plan must set out a limit for fees to be charged for each course and objectives of the governing body of the institution relating to the promotion of equality of opportunity and the promotion of higher education. The plan must also set out actions to be taken by the governing body of an institution in relation to increasing the number of applications it receives from groups that are under-represented in higher education and in relation to providing financial assistance to students and ensuring students are informed about fees and financial assistance. The governing body must monitor its compliance with the provisions of the plan and the progress made in achieving objectives set out in the plan.
In Wales, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) has been designated by the Welsh Ministers as the ‘relevant authority’ for the purpose of approving and enforcing an institution’s plan (designated by virtue of the Higher Education Act 2004 (Relevant Authority) (Designation) (Wales) Regulations 2011 (SI 2011/658). HEFCW is also responsible for approving any variations to a plan which an institution wishes to make.
Under section 34 of HEA 2004, the governing body of an institution which is eligible for HEFCW funding can apply to HEFCW for approval of a proposed plan. The Student Fees (Approved Plans) (Wales) Regulations 2011 set out the procedure to be followed by HEFCW where the governing body of an institution applies for approval, and the factors that HEFCW must have regard to in making a determination. Once approved, an institution must publish its plan. The maximum duration of an approved plan is two years.
Under section 28 of the Higher Education Act 2004, where an approved fee plan is in place the institution must comply with the general provisions of the plan. If the governing body of the institution fails to comply with the provisions of the plan, including the provisions relating to equality of opportunity, then HEFCW can impose financial requirements on the governing body. These include requiring repayment or withdrawal of any grant or loan from HEFCW or the refusal to award any further loan or grant. Under section 38 of HEA 2004, HEFCW can also refuse to approve a further fee plan for that institution for a specified period of up to a year. This would result in the institution being unable to charge fees above the basic amount for this period.
The Welsh Ministers and HEFCW can therefore use their powers to ensure that where a higher education institution wishes to charge higher fees to students, it must meet a higher standard with respect to equality of opportunity and the promotion of higher education.