MPs and celebrities unite in stand against fees

October 25, 2002

Imperial's plans for fees and merger with UCL spur protest and strategy talks

A campaign against top-up fees gathered momentum this week, with MPs, trade unions and even the odd celebrity raising their voices against the prospect of £15,000-a-year degree courses.

MPs from all parties backed an Early Day Motion proposed by Ian Gibson, chairman of the House of Commons science and technology select committee, voicing their concern that top-up fees would "severely undermine" attempts to widen participation in higher education.

The two higher education lecturers' unions joined the National Union of Students to declare their "total opposition", and at Cambridge University the student union has enlisted the support of author Zadie Smith and other alumni to condemn top-up fees and to begin a publicity campaign.

Paul Mackney marked his re-election as head of the largest lecturers'

union, Natfhe, with a warning that the government's expected university reforms would become "New Labour's poll tax" - with disastrous electoral consequences.

He said allowing the free market to determine the shape of higher education, combined with the expected failure to address student hardship, would destroy social inclusion targets and lead to the closure of numerous courses.

The Cambridge student union asked all alumni to refuse to make any donations to the university until it ruled out top-up fees.

Ms Smith, author of award-winning novel White Teeth, said: "Simple fact: fees of any kind would have made my career at Cambridge an impossibility."

* Scotland is bracing itself for an influx of English students spotting a cheaper route to a degree, with the Scottish Executive in effect subsidising them. So far, however, the executive refuses to say how it might deal with this.

David Caldwell, director of Universities Scotland, said if fees rose in England, Scottish institutions would take the view that their loss was correspondingly higher and would expect compensation.

* British universities stand to lose up to £24 million in fees when European Union enlargement is completed by June 2004. Students from the accession countries currently pay overseas student-fee rates, unlike students from EU states who are eligible for lower "home" fees.

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