Time bomb with a longer fuse

March 3, 2000

The forces arrayed against the top-up fee advocates are great and not without clout ("No 10 backs Russell elite's freedom fight", THES, February 25). They must, however, not win the day if the United Kingdom is to play a world-leading research and teaching role.

There are benefits for all.

Top research departments, wherever they are, must be free to compete against the Harvards and MITs of the world. The money that can be saved from the public purse through fee income can be used to support departments that are not internationally competitive but do an outstanding job.

A needs-blind admissions process will ensure that students of all socioeconomic classes will not be disadvantaged. The new system will mean access to the best education and research opportunities in the world.

Many staff do not expect City-like salaries. However, as The THES shows, they would like more competitive salaries. My first PhD student graduated late last year and is already earning more than me. His salary will be almost double mine in two years, and I shall never reach his unless I become a very senior figure in the sector or leave. Low academic salaries mean PhD stipends are near ridiculous. In chemical engineering we are finding it difficult to recruit UK students. This cannot be a good thing.

Mark Biggs Department of chemical and process engineering, University of Surrey.

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