Murphy to fight fee contributions

April 7, 1995

Jim Murphy, president of the National Union of Students, will campaign against fee contributions in the review of student funding backed by four-fifths of delegates to conference last week.

But Mr Murphy says the union is not ruling out any ideas as it prepares a consultation document to send to campuses next month.

The four-fifths conference majority also agreed to drop the commitment to restoring grants at their 1979 level. This change has spawned a new pressure group, the Campaign for Free Education, which argues that payment for education leaves some students with a "life-long burden of debt".

The conference decided that campaigning for the 1979 level was out of date and a more realistic approach was needed.

Mr Murphy said: "The sentiment of conference was on hardship rather than debt."

This meant ensuring that students did not have to worry about money while at college and regulating debt in a fair way after graduation. "Students should not have to survive on a grant which is lower than their accommodation costs," he said.

"Education has moved on in size and shape and it is no longer related to 1979, so having a student funding policy dated to 1979 does not take any realistic account of the expansion or any future expansion. Nor does it take any realistic account of further education and part-time study. Hundreds of thousands of further education students have to pay fees and it is something we have been quiet on."

He added: "My own view is that contributions from students towards their tuition is a path we should not follow. That is where I would like to use my influence."

The Campaign for Free Education claims wide political support, although its main advocates are on the hard left and it is based in the offices of Left Unity, an umbrella group for left-wing student groups. The campaign claims eight supporters on the new 21-strong NUS national executive.

"The NUS has got itself obssessed with believing we cannot afford free education and is therefore looking for an alternative," said founder member Kevin Sexton, London NUS convener.

Newly-elected NUS women's officer Alison Brown added: "All forms of graduate tax are charges on education. We are opposed to this because we believe free education is a right."

They warned that payment-for-education schemes would mean the evolution of a more elitist system of higher education in Britain.

The campaign meets for the first time tomorrow. Mr Sexton said the group needed to convince supporters to stay within the NUS and influence the union's policy.

"A lot of people walked away from conference saying 'What is the point of being in a union if it is not going to defend free education?' One of our major aims is to ensure people don't leave that organisation and don't leave the battle for free education."

Education Secretary Gillian Shephard welcomed the NUS review.

Bryan Davies, Labour's further and higher education spokesman said: "The NUS realises students need additional support and a return to the old formula is so costly that it is unlikely any such system could produce sufficient resources for students. That is why what is increasingly being canvassed is the possibility of a student contribution which also guarantees adequate resources during the period of study."

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