In the news: Barry Sheerman

August 31, 2001

When education ministers appear before the select committee on education and skills this autumn to discuss the future of tuition fees, they can expect talk of student poverty.

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the committee, has long expressed concern about the low numbers of working-class students going to university because of fears of debt.

Earlier this year he urged the government to reward universities that took students from lower-income groups. But he has warned against a "knee-jerk" restoration of maintenance grants arguing that it would rob higher education of money.

Mr Sheerman, a member of the Labour Party since 1962, has been accused of being over-loyal. Opposition committee members where furious when he banned discussion of the Laura Spence case in an investigation into access this year. They accused him of wanting to protect Gordon Brown, who had condemned Oxford University for refusing the state-school applicant. Two years ago he was awarded a gold pager at a fringe event at the Labour Party conference for asking the prime minister a fawning question.

Such criticism riles him. He suggested Liberal Democrat higher education spokesman Evan Harris, who criticised the access report, should think about leaving. Other spats included a row with former Ofsted chief inspector Chris Woodhead, who he described as the "witchfinder general", and with members of the teaching unions after describing their Easter conferences as a "ghastly ritual".

Mr Sheerman was educated at Hampton Grammar School and Kingston Technical College before studying for a BSc in economics at the London School of Economics. He lectured in political theory and government at the University of Wales, Swansea, for 13 years from 1966 until his election as MP for Huddersfield East.

Married with four children he is vehemently anti-smoking and pro-Europe.

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