Missed chances on fees

January 6, 1995

It is good to learn that Tessa Blackstone ". . . now believe(s) that it would make sense to require students to contribute to these (ie their tuition) costs . . ."

However her article in your issue of December 16 does not advance the debate on this topic. She restates what has been Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals's policy since 1988 when a joint Committee of Directod of Polytechnics/CVCP working party that I chaired concluded that unless the Government and/or the students and their families provided additional resources the, then imminent, expansion of higher education would occur at the expense of the quality of the student experience. We all agreed then, as now, that it is better if it is the Government that provides the needed resource.

However, no administration since 1988 and (pace Lady Blackstone) no remotely credible prospective administration has shown any inclination of a willingness to act as we would all wish. The argument is thus not about the best but the least bad option now open to the universities.

Those of us who favour differential (or "top up") fees support such a policy because it would protect excellance in at least some institutions despite Government policies; would enable those institutions which charged such fees to develop excellance where currently they have none and would encourage their students to take a keener and more critical attitude to the education they are offered.

Ironically, Birkbeck College is one of the few university institutions in the United Kingdom in this position and it is no surprise, at least to me, that it is also the institution that most improved its position between the last two research assessment excercises. British universities would do better to do as Tessa Blackstone does and not as she says.

John Ashworth Director London School of Economics and Political Science

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