Monday, 15 June 2009

Tuition fees row set to blow up again

Student friendly political party the Liberal Democrats have again blasted the top-up tuition fees introduced by the government.

Research conducted by Universities UK (UUK) was today published claiming many universities would like to raise their tuition fees higher than the current maximum amount of £3175 a year, and a BBC News report found that that fee could be as high as £20,000 a year.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Innovations, University and Skills Secretary, Stephen Williams said: “It is no surprise that many of the vice-chancellors involved with this research would like to see tuition fees more than doubled. The conclusions would be very different if students’ views were considered.”

The row over top-up fees almost cost Tony Blair his job as Prime Minister after a vote in Parliament saw only five more votes cast in favour of introducing top-up fees than against.

There was also controversy over the vote itself after 46 Scottish MPs voted with the government in favour of top-up fees, despite the fact that their constituents would not be affected by the change.

The narrow victory in that vote is rumoured to be one of the main reasons why Blair’s premiership came to an end before the end of his third term. Blair had previously promised in Labour’s 2001 manifesto that “[Labour] have no plans to introduce University top-up fees, and have legislated to prevent their introduction.”

Williams added: “The government must look at ways of easing the student debt burden instead of increasing it. It should publish its fee review before the next election, so all political parties can make their views know to the electorate.

“Liberal Democrats believe that all students should be able to go to university without having to worry about getting saddled with massive tuition fee debt. That’s why we think university fees should be scrapped, not doubled.”

But Williams’ claim that all students are against top-up fees has been cast into doubt by research conducted by InJournalism. Sunderland University student Shaun Wathey is in favour of top-up fees, as long as they improve the quality of education.

“If that’s the only way universities are able to raise the money to improve the education they offer students then so be it. I’m not in favour of the elite Universities such as Oxford and Cambridge being able to charge more though, because it’ll make education a two-tier system.”

Faye Cruickshank plans to start university in September at Cambridge. She told InJournalism: “I think top up fees are pretty unfair as they discourage people from poorer backgrounds such as myself from going to university and if the government are wanting more people to get degrees then they aren’t doing themselves any favours.

“But there are other financial options that didn’t exist before like maintenance grants and there is a good system for paying back the loans so if they are going to insist on charging them at least they are going the right way about it.”

University of Sunderland student Adam Chapman said: “As a third-year, I was part of the first group of students to pay these fees, after months of controversy and arguing in Parliament. However, every year since, our fees have risen and nobody has batted an eyelid.”

[I wrote this story after recieiving a tip-off through DN. It was originally published on InJournalism]

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