Financial problsm may be contributing to a drop in applications this year
Andrew Cubie received a rare accolade this week. No one could remember the last time a guest at a National Union of Students conference had a standing ovation. Slow hand claps, yes; even forcible ejection from the podium; but never the open warmth with which Mr Cubie's address was met.
The NUS Convention 2000 in Preston was thrilled to have secured such a distinguished speaker, and the convener of the Scottish independent committee of inquiry into student finance did not disappoint.
"The Scots are now in a favourable position, but in the (rest of the) UK, so far, there is no change," he said.
"I would not constrain you from seeking implementation of the Cubie report throughout the United Kingdom."
In order to discredit tuition fees, however, Mr Cubie stressed that evidence would need to be gathered through rigorous research and that a political will was needed for that process to take place.
"Why does this matter? It matters because it is unacceptable that people with potential are held back for family or financial reasons," he said. "This is an issue of fairness."
Mandy Telford, president of NUS Scotland, told the meeting that despite the abolition of up-front tuition fees in Scotland, the campaign was not over because Cubie's recommendations had been so severely watered down.
"Bursaries of Pounds 2,000 are available, not bursaries of Pounds 4,100 as Cubie recommended, and there is a graduate endowment that is payable at Pounds 10,000, not Pounds 25,000. Only the full implementation of the Cubie report can effectively address the needs of Scotland's students," she said.
Owain James, incoming national president of the NUS, said the campaign against top-up fees would be relentless. "We will be demanding concrete guarantees against top-up fees from the government, for implementation of the Cubie report and the education maintenance allowance across the UK. We will make it very clear that anything less can only be regarded as hypocrisy if the government is committed to ending elitism."