£2,000 fees on Blair's agenda

December 7, 2001

Student tuition fees should be doubled to £2,150 a year and full differential fees introduced, according to a report by a Blairite think-tank.

A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research to be published on Monday also recommends that student loans be offered at the market rate.

Student leaders described the the IPPR report as disastrous, claiming that its recommendations would price poorer people out of higher education.

But the IPPR recommendations will please many in government and universities who believe that students should pay more for tuition because they will earn more on average than non-graduates.

The report will be a major influence on the government's review of student support. Ministers have said already that private contributions to tuition will remain. Whether they should be upfront or post-graduation is still to be decided.

A forthcoming submission to the government from Universities UK will warn against any axeing of tuition fees, which are worth up to £400 million a year to universities. UUK remains open-minded about the need for higher flat-rate fees - a number of its members support differential fees.

The IPPR report, by research fellow Wendy Piatt and senior economist Peter Robinson, presents the government with a choice between using public cash for higher education expansion and investing more in lower-level education, provided largely by further education colleges.

It attacks the present tuition fee, capped at £1,075 this year, and subsidised maintenance loans, with a zero rate of interest, as a regressive system that "benefits middle-class students at the expense of young people from working-class backgrounds".

It concludes that any expansion of higher education to meet prime minister Tony Blair's target of 50 per cent participation by 2010, should be funded privately by students, their parents and graduates. But it questions the justification for the 50 per cent target in the first place.

Dr Piatt told The THES : "If the government wants to expand higher education, taxpayers should not be funding it. The recent periods of expansion have enabled more working-class people to go into higher education but expansion is not the most efficient way of increasing the proportion of people from lower socioeconomic groups."

The report distinguishes between expansion and widening participation, which the government and many in higher education see as the same thing. It is widely assumed that middle-class participation is saturated and so expansion is possible only by recruiting poorer people.

Dr Piatt said this was untrue. The government's figures show that about 70 per cent of young people from wealthier backgrounds go into higher education. Many of the remaining 30 per cent have the qualifications necessary for entry.

The government's 50 per cent target could be achieved relatively easily by soaking up the remaining slack among the middle-classes, Dr Piatt said.

She added that, to broaden participation, the government needed to put money into increasing the number of people with level-3 qualifications. Most of those without them are socioeconomically disadvantaged. The report says: "Funding for post-16 education should be distributed more fairly and according to a coherent set of principles."

The most generous support should go to the neediest, and future graduate earnings should be included in any definition of need, the report says.

Owain James, president of the National Union of Students, said: "The recommendations of the IPPR are regressive and will exclude thousands of students and harm the public sector."

Baroness Warwick, chief executive of UUK, said: "Further and higher education are both underfunded I so any suggestion of downgrading one sector at the expense of the other will not help meet government targets."

UUK president Roderick Floud said: "We would be concerned at losing the income stream from fees. What we are really talking about when discussing student-support arrangements is not fees but maintenance. We have not come to a conclusion on top-up fees. It is a political decision."

UUK is likely to call for more money for capital infrastructure and projects on top of the £8.84 billion it identified in its submission last week to the 2002 spending review. The £8.84 billion covers the period 2003-09. Professor Floud said that the figure was a conservative estimate. <P style="MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px"> *The higher education sector needs an extra £7.68 billion for student expansion, teaching infrastructure, staff pay, buildings and equipment, according to the Standing Conference of Principals.

Scop's submission to next year's spending review calls for £5.03 billion for 2003-04 to 2005-06 and a deferred £2.65 billion for teaching infrastructure for the review period 2006-07 to 2008-09.

Report details: www.ippr.org.uk </a>

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