Long-term fees gain

September 19, 1997

In his article, "Blunkett's funding muddle" (THES, August 29), Ben Jackson criticised the stance of the National Union of Students and student unions across the country for accepting the loss of maintenance grants and campaigning against tuition fees. He said this would unfairly punish the worse off. While this may be true in the short term it would not be so in the long term.

The acceptance of student contribution to maintenance hinges on two principles: equity and limitation. Accepting small regional variations, each student will spend the same amount on his or her living costs. Maintenance is not subject to divisive market forces depending on the course studied, and is linked to inflation. The extent of required student expenditure on maintenance is also finite unlike a proportion of fees, which could at a later date be extended to encompass the full amount.

The government proposals say that students should pay 25 per cent of tuition fees. In Australia under a similar scheme tuition fees started at 23 per cent of the average, but this has since risen to 40 per cent. In the United States private university students pay all their tuition fees. Not only is the percentage of the amount paid variable but there is also the issue of different charges for different courses and different institutions.

NUS and student unions are arguing to retain the principle of free tuition and in the process have taken the radical step of accepting students paying for their maintenance. This may seem to legislate against students from poorer backgrounds in the short term, but in the long term they will gain.

Alex Bols

Representation officer Southampton University Student Union

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