Labour faces fees protests

September 26, 1997

LABOUR may still face a revolt over its plans to axe maintenance grants and introduce tuition fees at its conference next week, despite its announcement this week of extra money for universities.

A number of constituency parties have tabled amendments criticising the Government's plans for higher education funding.

Education secretary David Blunkett has proposed to end maintenance grants and to allow undergraduates to take out larger loans to be repaid after graduation. Mr Blunkett favours means-tested tuition fees of around Pounds 1,000, although he has warned universities against charging top-up fees.

Seven constituency Labour parties tabled amendments to a motion from Bethnal Green and Bow CLP that was drafted before Dearing. The motion reads: "This conference believes that an entry fee will cause inequality in higher education introducing an elitist system based on ability to pay. This conference resolves to oppose any form of entry fee for undergraduate students."

The Dunfermline West CLP amendment calls for a new paragraph: "Conference notes that the number of higher and further education graduates from workingclass backgrounds has not dramatically increased since the 1960s and welcomes the employment and education secretary's wish to see this proportion increased. However, the Government's recent decision to introduce a means-tested tuition fee and increased use of student loans is unlikely to achieve this."

Luton North CLP is straightforward: "This conference wholeheartedly supports the principle of universal free education, from nursery to higher education. This conference wholly rejects any attempt to impose charges for tuition fees for any student entering higher education."

It is left up to Labour Students to defend the Government's position. Its amendment to a further motion from Cunninghame North CLP reads: "Conference believes that the measures announced will begin the urgent process of making higher education adequately funded, more accessible and of a better standard across institutions over the course of this Parliament."

But in another amendment to the same motion, Northavon CLP says: "Conference believes that the introduction of tuition fees of Pounds 1,000 per annum will inevitably result in the introduction of 'top-up' fees, leading to the reappearance of the 'binary divide' in higher education."

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