Laurie Taylor Column

October 25, 2002

I see that Imperial College is going to charge top-up fees.

Yes, I think I saw a headline about that over the weekend. They are going to charge up to £15,000 a year.
Do you think the government will let Imperial get away with it? There were all those protestations before the last election.

Of course they will let them get away with it. It is what they have secretly wanted to happen for years.
I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't put Imperial up to it. They'll pretend it is all part of their new drive towards decentralisation and more local autonomy.

But isn't it in conflict with all the new Labour talk about equality of opportunity?

Not at all. Didn't you read the whole report?

I may have skipped a little.

Well, if you'd looked at the details, you would have seen that Imperial is going to operate a needs-blind system.

Needs-blind?

That's right. It means that it will interview anyone who looks as though they have the ability to handle the course, but the interviewers won't ask any questions that will enable them to discover the student's actual financial resources.
In that way, they pick the best students rather than those who can afford the fees.

But won't they be able to make a good guess about a student's means from their home address, the name of the school that they attended and from the way that they look and talk?
And there's another thing. If they operated a real needs-blind system, then they could end up selecting a large majority of students without the means to pay - and then they would be back to where they were in the first place.

I don't think that will happen. When push comes to shove, I think you'll find that there is one principle that overrides needs-blind.

What's that?

Needs must.

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