Letter: Get the equality argument right

December 1, 2000

Your report "Private fees fund 'public investment'" (THES, November 24) alleges that the government has not been clear about how the tuition fees that students and their parents pay relate to the investment the government is making in higher education.

This is not true. Since we announced the introduction of student contributions to tuition fees, we have said that we would reinvest that money in higher education. That is what we have done. And the government is investing heavily with new money.

Over the three years to 2003-04, the additional funding of higher education will be just under £1 billion and we estimate 92.5 per cent of that will come directly from the government.

The report also fails to put the three-year cumulative total of £1.2 billion in student contributions into the context of a cumulative higher education spending total of more than £18 billion in the same period. It also fails to mention the £675 million from the government to higher education institutions for improvements in science research infrastructure in 2002-03 and 2003-04.

Universities will also be able to bid for part of the extra £250 million provided by the Office of Science and Technology, via the research councils, for research into priority areas of genomics, e-science and basic technology.

When we took office, we agreed with Dearing that it was fair to ask students to contribute to the cost of their courses. But we have ensured that less well-off students do not have to contribute. From next September about 50 per cent of students will not have to pay. For full-time undergraduates, student contributions to fees represent only about 10 per cent of tuition costs on average - the taxpayer funds the other 90 per cent.

While the average student pays about £1,400 in fee contributions over a three-year course, because we have extended the basic loan entitlement for all students by some £3,000 over the same period, parents have to pay no more under the new arrangements.

Tessa Blackstone
Minister of state for education and employment

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