Students should help to sell the benefits of a university education to disadvantaged young people instead of attacking the government over top-up fees and debt, higher education minister Margaret Hodge said this week.
Ms Hodge told delegates at a conference in London on Tuesday that every student satisfaction survey showed that people were mostly pleased with their course and their university and that they believed that higher education was generally worth while, even if it cost money in terms of tuition fees and meant graduating thousands of pounds in debt.
Speaking in response to a student's question on whether higher costs risked deterring poor people, Ms Hodge said: "Every survey, every MORI poll demonstrates how much you all know you have got out of your time at university. If we are really to encourage a wider cohort of people who just don't think university is for them... the best people to go out and advocate that are you.
"To go out and say 'it has not been a good time of my life, I haven't learned, it has not been a good investment' I think is just depressingly negative."
Ms Hodge told delegates from schools, colleges and universities across London and the Southeast that proposals in the government's higher education white paper, which will introduce top-up fees of up to £3,000 from 2006, would help the poorest students by providing them with grants of up to £1,000 from 2004 and by abolishing upfront fees from 2006.
Mandy Telford, president of the National Union of Students, said: "Students are not criticising their education but the fact that this government has increased their debt and hardship and actually deterred many potential students from going to university. For her to suggest that the white paper will improve things would be funny if it wasn't so scary."