Professors call for fee and grant rethink

February 27, 1998

WE WRITE as university academics and others to express our grave concern at the government's abandonment of the principle of free higher education.

The existence of a funding crisis is not in dispute. It is long term and worsening. The Dearing report described the loss of resources over the past two decades as already having the potential to "damage the intrinsic quality of the learning experience which underpins the standing of UK awards".

What is in dispute is the government's failure to address this crisis in a principled way. The imposition of Pounds 1,000 tuition fees and the abolition of maintenance grants, if implemented, would represent the final reversal of the principle of free higher education - a principle established after the last war to ensure equality of opportunity and to create a better educated and more productive society. The government's own declared aim is to increase access and promote the culture of lifelong learning. Yet its actions point in the opposite direction. The maintenance loan, itself seriously inadequate, faces students with the prospect of long-term debt and is already deterring mature students and many from poorer families. The Pounds 1,000 tuition fee will deter many more. It has to be paid upfront, without any loan support, by all whose parents have a joint income of Pounds 350 per week or more. Far from solving the funding crisis it could, by deterring students, make matters worse. Higher education will still have to absorb the bulk of the projected deficit.

Our argument is simple. If education really is such a priority for this government, then it must recognise that it needs extra money from the state. It cannot be extracted from students. It will not come from the private sector. Nor is it any answer to shift resources from one over-stretched area of the education service to another. Funds for higher education must be found in a way that is socially equitable and that does not restrict, or end, the right to higher education. There is an answer. It is an obvious one in a country which has one of the least progressive tax systems in the developed world. It is to pay for higher education out of a more redistributive system of general taxation. Society needs universities. They will be fewer and worse unless they receive more cash now and in future. The proposed funding system is divisive, inefficient and socially regressive. We urge the government to think again.

Joe Andrews. Professor of Russian. Keele University

Ash Armin. Professor of geography. University of Durham

Philip Arestis. Professor of economics. University of East London

Jennifer Birkett. Professor of French. University of Birmingham

Zen Bankowski. Professor, centre for law and society, University of Edinburgh

George Blazyca. Professor of economics. University of Paisley

Alice Brown. Professor of politics, Edinburgh

Jane Broadbent. Professor of accounting. Royal Holloway College, University of London

G. A. Cohen. Professor of social and political theory, All Soul's, Oxford

Bill Cranston. Emeritus professor of civil engineering, University of Paisley

Miriam David. Professor and dean of research. The London Institute

Robert Eccleshall. Professor of politics. Queen's University, Belfast

John Eldridge. Professor of sociology. University of Glasgow

Ben Fine. Professor of economics, SOAS London

Duncan Forrester. Professor of divinity, University of Edinburgh

John Foster. Professor of applied social studies, University of Paisley

Martin Fransman. Professor of economics, University of Edinburgh

Norman Ginsburg. Professor of social policy, University of North London

Mike Grieve. Professor of haematology. University of Aberdeen

Peter Higgs. Professor emeritus physics and astronomy, Edinburgh

Patricia Jeffrey and Roger Jeffrey. Professors of sociology. University of Edinburgh

Mike Lee. Professor of criminology. Middlesex University

Neil MacCormick. Professor, centre for law and society, University of Edinburgh

James McIntosh. Professor of social policy. University of Glasgow

Elizabeth Meehan. Professor of politics. Queen's University, Belfast

Mary Mellor. Professor of sociology. University of Northumbria

Jonathan Michie. Professor of management. Birkbeck College, University of London

Jim Miller. Professor of linguistics. University of Edinburgh

Liam O'Dowd. Professor of sociology. Queen's University, Belfast

Henry Patterson. Professor of politics. University of Ulster

Tony Prosser. Professor of law. University of Glasgow

Brian Roper. Vice-chancellor. University of North London

T. V. Sathyamurthy. Professor (emeritus) politics. University of York

Malcolm Sawyer. Professor of economics University of Leeds

Philip Schlesinger. Professor of film and media studies, University of Stirling

Roger Seifert. Professor of industrial relations. Keele University

Stan Smith. Professor of English. University of Dundee

John Struthers. Professor of economics University of Paisley

Jorge Thomaneck. Professor of German. University of Aberdeen

John Tosh. Professor of history. University of North London

Peter Vandome. Professor of econometrics University of Edinburgh

Charles Warlow. Professor of medical neurology University of Edinburgh

John Westergaard. Emeritus professor of sociology University of Sheffield

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