Get real, Sir Richard 1

November 1, 2002

Weary of the top-up debate, Sir Richard Sykes (Why I, THES , October 25) has stepped out to convert Imperial College, London, from a prestigious research institution into a privileged independent university by seeking "real" tuition fees.

The cleverness of the Sykes wheeze of using government tuition-fee income for his assisted-places scheme raises a question: why would any government offer a fee on top of a charged "real" fee of £15,000?

Government underfunding is only half the story. Institutions should have asked research councils, government and private agencies for more realistic commissions before researching on their behalf, just as they should have refused student expansion numbers without cost-effective payments for teaching.

Sir Richard even trots out the daft claim that - for higher education only - an upfront contribution from parents is dulce et decorum .

No national public service operates on the ability to pay contributions upfront. Would we expect the parents of someone who had, say, survived to adulthood having received expensive healthcare to pay a special extra contribution? Public services are already based on a contribution philosophy according to actual rather than projected earnings.

The government is unable to control resources. But rather than adopt the electorally unpopular practice of raising revenue, it has opted for brandishing the town-and-gown prejudice that clever kids get special treatment - "so let's bash them for it".

Andrew J. Morgan

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