Top-up fees: prudence or betrayal? 2

February 21, 2003

The government appears intent on perpetuating a perverse feature of its post-1997 reorganisation of student funding.

Whereas most middle-class students were made £1,000 a year worse off when fees were introduced, poorer working-class students were more than £1,700 a year worse off because of the abolition of maintenance grants. With inflation, that £1,700 has increased to about £2,000.

If top-up fees go ahead, a middle-class student who goes to a university that charges fees will be up to £3,000 a year worse off than pre-1997. The poorest working-class students will, on average, be at least as badly hit. Fewer will receive the proposed £1,000 maintenance grant than received the old pre-Labour grant. In addition, they will pay up to £1,900 in top-up fees.

In universities that do not charge top-up fees, which may well house most working-class students, middle-class students will be no worse off than under the Conservatives because of the abolition of up-front fees. Poor working-class students, however, will have lost about £1,000 a year in maintenance.

Education secretary Charles Clarke should explain why the government, compared to its Conservative predecessor, believes that the best way to broaden, not just increase, participation in universities is to treat the poorest working-class students more harshly financially than it treats the wealthiest middle-class ones.

Colin Fraser
Churchill College, Cambridge

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