Leader: Look ahead on fees

November 7, 2003

When such ardent enthusiasts for the free market as Republican congressmen try to intervene in the setting of university fees, there are lessons to be learnt by those who see US higher education as the one true model. The first, and most obvious, is that no one should expect the present controversy over the introduction of top-up fees to signal the end of the debate in England: fees will become an even hotter political issue the higher they rise. The second is that the degree of regulation set in place in the forthcoming bill will be all-important in the long term.

Fee rises consistently outpace inflation both in US universities and in Britain's independent schools. The same can be expected in English universities if there is an unfettered market when the promised controls expire in 2010. Ministers may be reluctant to cross that bridge until they come to it. But, without some indication of future controls, universities will be unable to plan effectively and we will be rehearsing the same arguments in five years' time.

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