Blunkett launches fees offensive

November 7, 1997

DAVID BLUNKETT, secretary of state for education and employment, has accused opponents of tuition fees of scare-mongering.

In a bid to head off a recruitment crisis, he is preparing to write this week to potential university applicants to explain plans for fees.

The line was reinforced by prime minister Tony Blair who said the government would not be deflected from fees because the universities were underfunded and the status quo was not an option.

In a House of Commons debate on Tuesday, Mr Blunkett said the Conservatives were suffering from "internal fission and amnesia" after creating the crisis in higher education. The Conservative resolution criticising the government was defeated by 373 votes to 139.

Conservative backbencher Graham Brady argued that because tuition fee income would not go directly to universities it was a tax. And shadow education spokesman Stephen Dorrell said that previous difficulties over fees paled into insignificance beside the recent revelation that English, Welsh and Northern Irish students at Scottish universities would have to pay fees for all four years. Scots and other European Union students will have to pay for only three.

Brian Wilson, Scottish education minister, denied that students would be deterred from studying in Scotland. In the House of Lords, junior Scottish office minister Lord Sewel said that the fee differential had been introduced to rectify the far larger anomaly of Scottish students paying Pounds 4,000 for a four-year degree roughly equivalent to the Pounds 3,000 English bachelors'.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas, former Scottish education minister, said that the government's plans would mean that a student from Umbria would pay less than one from Northumbria.

The Association of University Teachers has warned that the number of students in Scotland could drop by 20 per cent in the next four years as a result of the changes. The AUT Scotland was this week set to meet Scottish secretary Donald Dewar, urging him to confer with other ministers to resolve the row.

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