Fee radicals

March 12, 1999

The recommendation by David Roberts ("Fees hike would not deter undergraduates", THES, February 26) that a rise in tuition fees would not put students off applying for university is preposterous.

Mr Roberts need not look as far as New Zealand, since the evidence is here in the UK. Universities and Colleges Admissions Service figures show mature student applications have been hit hard: those from over-25s are down by more than 10 per cent since the introduction of tuition fees. Applications from mature students are also down in real terms.

Another report ("Student shortfall linked to cash", THES, February 5) makes clear that the 0.4 per cent increase in the number of under-21s is more than accounted for by the growth in the number of 18 to 20-year-olds and that applications from all other groups fell in absolute terms.

As for Mr Roberts's suggestion that variable, differential or top-up fees would be good for students and not deter them, he need only look at the strength of feeling in the student movement. Students at Oxford - those who in his logic are getting the best "value for money" - have been extremely outspoken on the issue.

Tuition fees have not solved the funding crisis. This is much as the National Union of Students expected. But the answer is not a market-led approach that would make HE a preserve for an elite that could afford the most expensive education. The answer is for university funding to be given a total re-think, with business playing a far more active role, and for a system that is based on students' ability to learn and not on their ability to pay.

Andrew Pakes National president, NUS

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