Lib-Dems plan rethink on fees policy

March 24, 2000

Top-up tuition fees and grants are on the Liberal Democrats' agenda for radical reform of their higher education policy.

The Liberal Democrats are setting up a working group to assess whether the party's policy needs revising following changes to student finance in Scotland after the Cubie report and the need to raise more money for higher education.

There is concern that the party's policy of opposing tuition fees and supporting loans for maintenance has been overtaken by the Scottish Parliament's decision to abolish up-front fees for higher and further education students and to reintroduce means-tested bursaries.

Liberal Democrats are also concerned about the levels of funding for higher education. The working group will look at the sort of differentiated tuition fees being discussed by leading research universities.

Evan Harris, spokesman for higher education, science and women, said: "We are actively considering policy. If another part of the United Kingdom has done something about student support then we have to look at that. We oppose tuition fees and I think we will continue to do so. Top-up fees are therefore not likely to be an option. However we are not ruling anything out."

Dr Harris said the priority would be to improve access to higher education for people from disadvantaged groups and to improve the amount institutions receive for teaching each student. This is in the face of annual cuts of 1 per cent.

The working group is due to report in the summer. It is more likely to contribute to the party's manifesto for the next election than to change policy at conference in September.

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