Letter: V-cs' unity on fees cast in doubt 1

March 8, 2002

The headline "V-cs mount campaign to keep fees" ( THES , March 1) was an accurate summary of the Universities UK submission to the government on the question of student support but a rather sweeping statement of v-cs'

views. The fact is that most v-cs had no idea about the policies being advocated on their behalf by UUK as they did not see the submission until it arrived in the post on Friday.

The paper was last discussed in October by the UK board. A proposal was made that all v-cs should have the opportunity to comment on the policy options at our December meeting. This suggestion produced furrowed brows and scowls from the executive end of the table. I recall the response being made that if all v-cs had an opportunity to discuss the policy options, they might find this "confusing" and they could suggest other "unhelpful" options.

The policy paper then disappeared into the Stygian depths of UUK only to emerge again last week.

UUK appears to be terrified that anyone might suggest that one policy option for England is to do the same as Scotland and abolish upfront fees. This would make English higher education free at the point of delivery and remove at a stroke the single most controversial aspects of the new student support arrangements.

Furthermore, it would reduce the enormous energy that is being expended in universities in chasing debt and stop the sad procedure of excluding students for non-payment of fees. It might even help to raise English participation rates to the Scottish levels.

It is clearly an option, but v-cs were not allowed to consider it. Shame.

Peter Knight
Vice-chancellor
University of Central England

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