Oxford v-c gives nod to top-ups

November 29, 2002

Oxford University vice-chancellor Colin Lucas has spoken out in favour of top-up fees and against a graduate tax.

Writing in the Oxford Gazette this week, Sir Colin said: "I do not think that it is right to dismiss an extension of student fees out of hand. It is wiser to explore how those who can afford to pay do so to a reasonable degree."

Sir Colin said that while the graduate tax had advantages for students, there were "disadvantages" for universities. "There is no guarantee that the yield of the tax will pass directly to them, or that the income will not be used as a substitute for the maintenance of other public funding," he said. But he conceded that "a taxation procedure might form one element of a combined solution".

Sir Colin said that the underfunding of universities was critical, noting that the transparency review demonstrated that underfunding stood at about £1 billion annually. Oxford has a deficit of £1.6 million for 2001-02 and anticipates a deficit of £4.3 million for the next financial year.

Sir Colin's stance on top-up fees could lead to conflict with Oxford student union, which is strongly opposed to tuition fees.

* Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, backed top-up fees this week, citing participation figures for US higher education as evidence that steeper charges would not deter students from poor homes (see chart, above).

Gaston Caperton, the chief executive of the College Board, which monitors higher education trends in the US, said that more than half of all high school graduates from families with an income of less than $34,000 (£22,000) were going on to college.

* David Wallace, vice-chancellor of Loughborough University, has asked us to point out that he is undecided on the issue of higher tuition fees ( THES , November 19).

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