Government giving no ground on top-up fees as rebellion grows

June 27, 2003

Top-up fees are non-negotiable, the government said this week as it faced a growing backbench rebellion over higher education and student funding plans.

A senior government source told The THES it would listen to people's concerns but that it was not about to concede ground on such a key part of its white paper proposals. The source said: "We will continue to talk to colleagues who have concerns but the plans remain intact."

The government's stand sets it on a collision course with backbenchers. Ian Gibson, Labour MP for Norwich North, plans to table amendments opposing the introduction of top-up fees and the creation of teaching-only universities.

He said: "Between now and the end of the year, we will build up our campaign."

More than 170 Labour MPs have signed early day motions opposing the changes to student finances. Legislation must be passed in the next parliamentary session for top-up fees to be introduced in 2006.

On Monday, 140 Labour MPs defied a three-line Commons' whip on tuition fees, more than halving the government's majority to 74. Ten voted with the Liberal Democrats to ban top-up fees, including Dr Gibson and former lifelong learning minister George Mudie. At least 100 abstained in protest.

A similar debate initiated by the Conservatives was under way as The THES went to press.

• In his first major speech on Europe and universities, education secretary Charles Clarke addressed concerns that divorcing teaching and research would disadvantage UK universities in Europe, writes Claire Sanders. He said it would be "foolish not to admit" different universities had different teaching and research strengths. But he refused to be drawn on concerns that the award of the university title to teaching-only institutions would run counter to the spirit of Bologna, which seeks to harmonise European higher education awards.

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