Call for sector-wide top-up fees

March 3, 2000

Top-up fees must be introduced across the sector and not restricted to a handful of elite universities, Russell Group campaigners said this week.

Sir Cohn Campbell, Nottingham University vice-chancellor and leader of the Russell Group's bid to make differential fees a reality, told The THES he was determined that the funding changes he proposed should become a "system wide" development.

His comments came as Howard Newby, president of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, called for a CVCP-led review of higher education funding and a probe into the likely impact of top-up fees on resources and access.

Professor Newby was due to invite the Russell Group to join with the CVCP in commissioning a study to consider the implications at the CVCP's residential meeting at Heriot-Watt University today. But Sir Colin predicted the Russell Group would go ahead with its own study regardless of the CVCP's.

Some members of the Coalition of Modern Universities, which also meets today at the residential gathering, are expected to urge caution. Geoffrey Copland, vice-chancellor of the University of Westminster, warned: "Just for the sake of getting some more money, we could be pricing some students out of the market. This would not be helpful to higher education and what it stands for."

Leaders of the Aldwych Group representing student unions at Russell Group universities also pledged opposition.

Sir Colin was jubilant after his proposals to commission a study on top-up fees and other developments, such as a needs-blind admissions system, bursaries and student vouchers, were unanimously backed by Russell Group members at a meeting last Friday. This, he claimed, would allow Britain to put at least a handful of its universities in the world's top 100.

Sir Colin said he was happy for the CVCP to conduct a "parallel" study, but the Russell Group's "coherence" would allow it to advance more quickly. Any study should consider the implications for the whole sector, he added. "We are not saying we want a system biased towards us. We are looking at system-wide changes."

Professor Newby said a full study of the sector's funding requirements was needed before considering top-up fees.

"We need a more thorough study than that proposed by the Russell Group, " he said.

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