Voters are unhappy with tuition fees and the scrapping of student grants, according to two MORI polls conducted for The THES in March and April this year.
The first showed that 63 per cent of people thought tuition fees and repayable loans would deter people from going to university; the second that 73 per cent thought maintenance grants should be reintroduced.
The results will make uncomfortable reading for the government in the run-up to what is likely to be a June 7 general election. Particularly worrying for ministers is the dislike of these policies among better-off voters.
Disaffection with government policies could cause serious problems for Labour in about 50 marginal seats won from the Tories in 1997. And it could be the Liberal Democrats, as the only major party to oppose fees and support the reintroduction of grants, that benefit.
Some 70 per cent of those in the fees poll intending to vote for parties other than Labour, including the Liberal Dems, thought fees and loans were a deterrent, while 81 per cent wanted grants reintroduced.
In the MORI poll on fees, of 1,997 people aged over 15, 65 per cent in social classes A, B and C1 thought that tuition fees and repayable loans would result in fewer people attending university. And 66 per cent of those earning more than £30,000 a year - the people most likely to be liable for full fees - thought this.
Only one in 20 of those polled thought that tuition fees and loans would result in more people attending university. Almost a quarter thought tuition fees would make no difference to university attendance.
In the grants poll, of 2,017 people aged over 15, 38 per cent agreed strongly with the statement that “means-tested grants for undergraduate students should be reintroduced across the UK”. A further 35 per cent said that they tended to agree with the statement.
About 76 per cent of A, B and C1s wanted grants reintroduced. Eighty per cent of people earning more than £30,000 a year agreed that grants should be reintroduced.
Support was less strong among those who might benefit most from grants. Seventy-one per cent in groups C2, D and E agreed with the reintroduction of grants.
The tuition-fees poll showed that almost 64 per cent of those intending to vote Labour in the election thought fees and loans would mean fewer people at university: 75 per cent of them agreed that grants should be reintroduced.
Owain James, president of the National Union of Students, said: “The government has ignored much evidence that the system of student support is not working. Let us hope they do not ignore public opinion.”
Higher education minister Baroness Blackstone said: “This year, 50 per cent of students will not pay tuition fees and £2,000 opportunity bursaries will also be available.”
Shadow education secretary Theresa May said: “This reflects the problems we are seeing in universities. The issue for students has been shown to be not the tuition fees, but the abolition of the maintenance grant.”
Evan Harris, higher education spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: “Fortunately, at the next election people have the chance to vote for the restoration of means-tested grants and abolition of tuition fees by voting Lib Dem.”
Election 2001 index page