Strong words expected on full-time fees

February 21, 1997

A GRADUATE tax system and some version of Australia's Higher Education Contribution Scheme are options that the Dearing committee is exploring to raise higher education funding, according to a committee finance consultant.

Quentin Thompson has said he finds the HECS system "interesting and intriguing" because "it does not seem to have affected student participation from different socio-economic groups".

It should therefore be explored by the committee as an option for raising more cash for British higher education, alongside a graduate tax scheme, he said.

The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals responded to Mr Thompson's comments by saying they were willing to consider all options. But student union leaders warned that any proposals which included payment of tuition fees would be strongly resisted.

Mr Thompson, a member of the Dearing inquiry's finance sub-committee, has been in Australia visiting universities on behalf of the accounting firm Coopers and Lybrand, which contracts with the Dearing committee to provide advice on university funding. He said Sir Ron, on learning of his visit, had asked him "to see what else I could find out".

Though the HECS scheme seemed an attractive option, Mr Thompson said he was not impressed by the Australian government's proposals for a three-tier version, under which tuition fees varied according to the cost of particular courses. A flat-rate scheme where all students were charged the same fee made more sense.

Last week Mr Thompson met with the chairman of the Australian inquiry into higher education, Roderick West. On funding, which was central to both inquiries, Mr Thompson said the Dearing committee needed to ad-dress the inequitable situation in Britain where full-time students have their fees paid and part-time students do not. He told Australian media: "Dearing will have some strong words to say about that."

The implications of Internet degrees were a further concern and Dearing had to address the prospect of a revolution in learning and funding.

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