Leader: Blair may need to sugar the pill in vital subjects

July 4, 2003

Engineers are worried about the shortage of science students (page 7), linguists are already trimming degrees to three years, abandoning the traditional year abroad, because they are struggling to recruit.

If these are the problems now, what will happen when top-up fees arrive? While students and their families may be willing to pay £3,000 in popular subjects, some areas of importance to the economy and society will be decimated if left to the vagaries of the market.

The queue for fee remission is growing by the week: Labour backbenchers demand concessions for poor households, and low-paid public servants are another special case. Ministers will not be able to respond to every deserving cause if top-up fees are to produce the returns that make them worth the political risks. But they will have to consider incentives such as those offered to trainee teachers in shortage subjects if a rounded higher education system is to survive.

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