Rebel MPs furious over v-cs' support for government line

December 12, 2003

Rebel Labour MPs this week turned on vice-chancellors for backing the government's top-up fee plans, writes Alison Goddard.

Universities UK sparked fury this week when it published the case for variable tuition fees, asking MPs to support the government's plans to introduce a new system of graduate contributions towards the cost of higher education.

The document outlines why universities need more money, the case for graduate contributions, the impact of graduate debt, and the case for variable fees. It also dismisses Conservative and the Liberal Democrat alternatives to the government proposals.

Ian Gibson, Labour MP for Norwich North and one of the leading rebels, said: "More and more now, there is animosity towards the vice-chancellors.

Why are they dictating to the government what should happen? People are saying that vice-chancellors are dictatorial. Why do we listen to Universities UK? Why do they speak for universities? Why are they more important than the students?"

The move comes amid uncertainty about the size of the Labour rebellion against the forthcoming higher education bill, which is due to be published in the first week of January.

Initial signs suggest a change of heart among only a handful of the 156 Labour rebels who have signed an early day motion calling for the government to publish full details of the alternatives to variable fees before proceeding with legislation.

A clearer picture is likely to emerge after next week's meeting between education secretary Charles Clarke and the Labour rebels. Mr Clarke will put the case for variable fees, which are opposed by many Labour MPs.

But the government has been buoyed by a Populus poll in The Times suggesting that 55 per cent of the general public think the government's scheme is fair.

Mr Clarke said: "There have been four independent surveys in the past week and they all point towards public support for expansion, graduate contributions and variable fees. We have a higher education package that is right, fair and more popular than any alternative."

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