Letter: Saying is believing?

November 10, 2000

Diana Warwick, chief executive of the Committee of Vice-chancellors and Principals, is quoted as saying that undergraduate students "who pay fees, according to the criteria, should be able to pay, and we urge them to do so" ("Students clock up £21m in unpaid fees", THES , November 3).

I do not know whether to be more depressed by the idea that she believes this to be so, or by the idea that she does not, but says it regardless.

There may be many reasons why students cannot afford to pay the fees levied on them. One is that they are not the only ones means-tested. Parents are, too, but they cannot be compelled to cooperate.

For example, students may be estranged from their parents but cannot provide the local authority with evidence of this. Whatever their means or those of their parents, they will be assessed for a maximum parental contribution.

Parents assessed to pay a contribution may feel unable to do so, possibly for reasons the means-test ignores, such as individual voluntary arrangements with creditors.

Also, even the chief executive of the CVCP must know by now that there is the problem of the student support package being inadequate. Many students work for a substantial part of the week as well as studying, but not all can manage the combination. Even those who do may leave with large debts apart from their student loans.

Just to put the icing on the cake, students who have to repeat parts of their course might not be entitled to help with fees. There is no help with additional fees charged on some courses, such as materials costs or compulsory trips.

Perhaps Baroness Warwick does believe what she said. It would be a sad level of ignorance to find in a leading figure in the sector.

Paul Hubert Shipley
West Yorks

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