A bed of red roses

May 18, 2001

You suggest undergraduate numbers have fallen since 1996-97 (Analysis, THES , May 11). A change in the way Open University students are accounted for distorts the split between first degree and other undergraduate numbers. Remove that distortion and the data show a rise of over 70,000.

It is wrong to say the change in accounting from cash to resources "frees up" £920 million from the student loan budget. This does not reduce the amount students borrow and government has to find. It is therefore also wrong to assert that over £4 billion has been saved in this way since 1997.

Nor would universities have received more money through the Dearing recommendation on tuition fees. Rather than all students paying fees irrespective of income, only those who can afford it do so, with the balance coming from the taxpayer. And the fee paid on average amounts to one-eighth of tuition cost, not one-quarter. There never was a suggestion universities should receive a tuition fee on top of the grant and tuition fee they received from the public purse before 1997, so it is illogical to say they would have been better off if they had.

The past four years can be summed up thus: there are record numbers of students; the government has committed to increase the planned funding for higher education in England by £1.7 billion in the six years to 2003-04; and funding per full-time-equivalent student will rise in 2001-02 for the first time since 1986.

Tessa Blackstone
Minister of state for education and employment

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