Brickbats for plan to axe stay-at-home students' fees

Proposal would widen gap between the haves and have-nots, critics warn. Hannah Fearn reports

July 8, 2009

The Government’s plan to drop university tuition fees for students who stay at home to study risks widening the gap between the haves and have-nots, critics have warned.

The University and College Union said the idea – thought to be contained in draft plans for a framework on the future of higher education – could force cash-strapped students to study for degrees that do not suit them.

Under the “no-fee degrees” proposal, students in England could choose not to pay tuition fees but would forgo the Government’s low-interest loans or other financial support.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: “The facts are that these plans will see students with necessary resources choosing where and what they wish to study, and those from poorer backgrounds denied the opportunity to move away and make full use of their potential.

“The reality is that there are areas of the country where certain degrees are not available any more due to cuts from vice-chancellors who know the cost of education but not its value. Tinkering with a failing system or giving with one hand and taking away with the other is not the way to solve higher education’s problems. We need a wholesale review of student and university funding, and the Government must refrain from kicking the promised fees review into touch.”

Stephen Williams, the Liberal Democrats’ Universities Spokesman, said the proposal was a cost-saving measure dressed up as a way to help students.

He said: “By abolishing fees for people who are able to stay at home, ministers are letting what people can afford affect what they study. People should be able to study the subject they want, where they want, regardless of how well off they are. If the Government truly wanted to make sure it is not just the wealthy who are able to get the education they want, it would scrap tuition fees altogether.”

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