Price of exams soar above inflation in 2024

General qualifications rise 6.4% while VTQs increase 5.5%

General qualifications rise 6.4% while VTQs increase 5.5%

Exam fee rises soared above inflation this year, new Ofqual data shows, but value for money for general and vocational qualifications has remained “broadly unchanged”.

The average cost of a vocational technical qualification was £69.39 in February 2024, 5.5 per cent higher than last year.

Price rises for general qualifications were even larger at 6.4 per cent. The average cost for a GCSE is up 6.6 per cent to £51.15, while A-levels rose 5.8 per cent to £121.39 and AS-level increased 6.8 per cent to £69.47.

Consumer price inflation (CPI) over the same 12-month period was 3.8 per cent.

Ofqual’s analysis, however, pointed out that exam fees rose in line with inflation over last two years, which suggests that qualification “value for money is broadly unchanged from two years ago”.

Last year, college leaders raised the alarm over some awarding organisations’ fees. While most increases were around 4 per cent, England’s biggest exam board AQA upped its fees by up to 16.5 per cent.

College leaders warned at the time that their already strained financial budgets were being stretched “even further” by rises in exam fees.

Data shows that in 2021, general qualification exam fees rose by 2.6 per cent and then jumped up 6.5 per cent between 2022 and 2023. For VTQs, prices increased by 1.2 per cent between 2021 and 2022 and 4.7 per cent between 2022 and 2023.

Inflation between 2022 and 2023 was 9.2 per cent.

Ofqual said today that it was “more helpful” to examine prices over a 24-month period to account for the lag between awarding organisations’ cost pressures, their subsequent exam fee hike and the “uncharacteristically high inflation of the past couple of years”.

“Given economic conditions and development associated with ongoing reform, price rises of the magnitude that are reported are to be expected,” the analysis said. “Ofqual has been, and continues to be, notified of above-inflation price rises and scrutinises these rises in their local market context.”

England has more than 250 awarding organisations which receive more than £700 million in revenue from exam fees, Ofqual estimates.

VTQ inflation ‘uniform’ across levels

The statistics on VTQs include, BTECs, Cambridge Nationals and functional skills but excludes apprenticeship end-point assessments. 

Ofqual found inflation was relatively uniform across the different levels with the highest inflation being in level 4 and above qualifications at 5.7 per cent and the lowest being in level 1 and level 1/2 qualifications at 5.1 per cent.

But the highest exam rise was seen in the construction and planning sector subject, where prices rose 8.5 per cent to an average price of £79.19.

‘Diffuse’ impact on fees from reform

Ofqual also suggested that changes to educational policy and reform would impact qualification fees.

Reform such as the removal of 16-19 funding for level 3 qualifications overlapping T Levels and with low or no enrolments combined with the rollout of T Levels would likely have a “diffuse” impact on pricing.

“Given the multi-year timescales that reforms take place across, increases in short-term costs linked with development of new qualifications may lead awarding organisations to adjust their fees across their wider portfolio,” the body said.

“Awarding organisations also need to invest to ensure resilient delivery across their qualification portfolios, including maintaining their operational capacity to ensure secure delivery of assessments, particularly in the context of an ever-evolving technological landscape. The cost of such necessary additional investment may also contribute to price movements.”

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