Increasing tuition fees do not necessarily have a negative impact on higher education enrollment if they are balanced with student support, according to a European Commission-funded study published on Monday (23 June).

Even among students from lower socio-economic groups, rising tuition fees are not a problem unless the magnitude of the cost change is exceptional, concludes the study, titled "Do changes in cost-sharing have an impact on the behaviour of students and higher education institutions?"

However, increases in fees do seem to result in falling enrollments among older students. The Commission report underlines that grants and/or loans are crucial for offsetting negative consequences of fees or fee rises on university enrollments.

"Student fees are a reality for a large proportion of students in Europe – and a controversial issue," said Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport.

"This study questions some common assumptions and provides valuable evidence for the ongoing debate in the EU on how best to fund higher education to ensure institutions provide the highest quality of education to increasing numbers of students, while guaranteeing fair access," she said in a statement.

The Commission report was carried out by independent researchers, who analysed the impact of changes in student fees in nine countries, including the EU member states Austria, the UK, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Portugal as well as Canada and South Korea.

For higher education institutions, introducing tuition fees usually increases their total amount of resources. However, the income from fees is not always invested in ways that directly improves the student experience, the report stated.

Moreover, tuition fees do not seem to make public university systems more responsive to changing demand (for example by developing new types of programmes). Instead, many other factors, such as tradition, prestige and accreditation rules, influence how institutions can and do act.