US fees system prices out poor

October 18, 2002

Introducing a US-style top-up fees system to Britain would result in universities pricing themselves beyond the reach of the poor, a new report warns.

Evidence gathered from the US by the Council for Industry and Higher Education shows that an unregulated differential fees market significantly hampers the prospects and academic performance of students from lower socioeconomic groups, despite a well-developed financial aid system.

While low-income students and those from non-traditional backgrounds in the US have higher grants and benefit from a legacy of endowments, that does not exist in the UK. These students would take longer to complete higher education or may drop out, and their degree grades suffer because of being forced to work to make ends meet. Latest figures show that the best grades achieved by students from the lowest social groups are no better than the worst grades of wealthy students.

The report by CIHE chief executive Richard Brown warns that these problems would undermine widening participation in the UK.

While coming out strongly in favour of differential fees, the report calls for a cap to "prevent tuition fees rising beyond the means of students from middle as well as lower-income families".

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