Scots unite to oppose top-ups

November 8, 2002

THES survey shows unexpected reactions to charging students more

The overwhelming majority of Scottish universities, including Russell Group members Edinburgh and Glasgow, are emphatically against charging top-up fees, and none is in favour.

Ian Johnston, principal of Glasgow Caledonian University, said: "It goes against the principle of free access to education for all, based on ability and regardless of the ability to pay."

Sir Graeme Davies, principal of Glasgow, has said: "We should be managing our affairs in such a way that we don't seek to solve our problems by just unloading them on the student population."

Colin Bell, principal of Stirling University, said that institutional funding and student support were separate issues, and "using the latter as a solution for the former" was a "form of madness".

But several principals comment that top-up fees are not on the agenda because of Scottish Executive policy, which has already axed tuition fees for Scottish students.

A Scottish Executive spokesperson said: "Ministers have made it clear, and repeated in guidance to the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, that top-up fees are not acceptable in Scotland."

John Mavor, Napier University's principal, said: "My institution has no plans to introduce top-up fees. However, if the government changed the basis of student funding, then we would be obliged to respond."

There is a strong belief that fees are politically inconceivable, since three of the four parties oppose them. Only the Scottish Tory education spokesman, Brian Monteith, said "the best universities" may have to charge top-up fees to be able to recruit the highest quality staff.

But there is concern about the impact on Scotland of a shift in fee policy south of the border. In the short term, there could be a surge in English applicants seeking a cheaper degree, with the question of whether the Scottish Executive would maintain current tuition fee levels for them. In the long term, if English universities gained extra funding unavailable in Scotland, Scottish institutions could decline and become increasingly unattractive to staff and students.

The Scottish Executive's review of higher education, due in February, does not include funding. But a spokesperson said: "The executive will monitor what comes out of the UK review to consider if there are any implications for Scotland."

WHAT SOME OF THE VICE-CHANCELLORS TOLD THE THES. A FEW ASKED TO REMAIN ANONYMOUS

* Colin Bell, Stirling University: "Higher education should remain free at the point of consumption, paid for out of taxation."

* Mike Goldstein, Coventry University: "If we are to have a market-driven approach, then we cannot do this by parts."

* John Tarrant, Huddersfield University: "The problem with top-up fees is not about their affordability but that they would do little to benefit the sector as a whole."

* Tony Downes, acting vice-chancellor, Reading University: "I believe it will be impossible to move to any form of limited deregulation. Some very powerful institutions will resist it. Differentiation by institution seems inevitable."

* Michael Driscoll, Middlesex University: "There is a real risk that expensive courses will be mainly confined to those from wealthy backgrounds."

* Les Ebdon, deputy vice-chancellor, Plymouth University: "If such fees are introduced, the government has no chance of meeting its target or recruiting 50 per cent of young people."

* Leslie Wagner, Leeds Metropolitan University: "The argument of differential fees is spurious. A general rise to around £2,000 would be a fair distribution between private and public funds."

* John Macklin, Paisley University: "I regret very much that discussion of this issue seems to be undertaken only in terms of 'top' universities."

* Mike Wright, Aston University: "I would support fees only as a very last resort and even then this would be a victory of pragmatism over principle."

* Diana Green, Sheffield Hallam University: "Deregulation of feesI should be seen as a small part of a larger issueI the necessity to free universities from red tape and excessive micro-management."

* David Wallace, Loughborough University: "One may speculate that any increase in top-up fees would continue to be regulated, through a requirement to allocate a proportion of additional funding as scholarships."

* One vice-chancellor says: "If imposed, differentiation should be by course. Differentiation by institution would explicitly create a two-tier system that would not serve the national interest."

* Another says: "The only way we would be in favour of charging higher tuition fees would be if they were levied in a way that permitted genuinely needs-blind admissions."

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