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Friday, 15 November, 2002, 13:59 GMT
'No free lunch' students told
Students have a responsibility, says Mrs Hodge
Students and their parents have been told they will have to pay more towards a university education.

The Higher Education Secretary, Margaret Hodge, told a conference of the umbrella group, Universities UK, that there was "no such thing as a free lunch".

Mrs Hodge said students had a high rate of return from their degrees, with better job prospects and a higher earning capacity, and they must expect to contribute more towards their education costs.

Margaret Hodge
Margaret Hodge: Should the dustman subsidise the doctor?
"Should the dustman continue to subsidise the doctor or should the doctor contribute towards the cost of their own education?," asked Mrs Hodge.

Even those wealthier students who paid the current 1,100 towards tuition fees were subsidised by the taxpayer to the tune of 3,000 to 4,000, she said.

Mrs Hodge argued that making a financial contribution would make students think carefully about the sorts of courses they signed up to.

"In an era when students are expected to contribute towards the cost of their higher education, they will, of course, select with great care a course which will enhance their career prospects."

Her speech was the clearest indication yet from the government that student contributions are set to rise sharply - either in the form of tuition fees or through a graduate tax.

Mrs Hodge has acknowledged the financial crisis faced by many universities, saying there had been a generation of severe under-funding of universities.

Top-up fees

Precisely how the government will go about funding the higher education sector in future will be revealed in January when it publishes its long-awaited review of university and student finance.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Friday morning, Education Secretary Charles Clarke said the government would honour its election manifesto commitment not to introduce top-up fees - which would see students paying more than the current 1,100 towards tuition costs.

Charles Clarke
Charles Clarke says the government will honour its manifesto pledge

Mr Clarke's words have further added to the confusion over whether the government will give universities the go-ahead to introduce the controversial fees.

Only last week, Prime Minister Tony Blair refused to rule out the introduction of the extra fees.

And some leading universities - notably Imperial College, London - have already outlined proposals for the introduction of the fees if they are given the go-ahead by the government.

But Mr Clarke said the government would honour its pledge to strengthen university research and teaching excellence, to get 50% of 18 to 30 years in higher education by 2010 and not to allow universities to charge top-up fees.

"Those three are commitments which stand and are the context within which we will publish our proposals," he told MPs.

Too long a wait

The Shadow Education Secretary, Damian Green, again attacked the government for the long delay in publishing its White Paper on higher education funding.

"Families, as well as universities, have been waiting for far too long to know when to start their financial planning for the top-up fees it seems the government certainly has planned for them," said Mr Green.

He was clearly sceptical of Mr Clarke's assertion that top-up fees were not on the agenda for January's document.

He raised Mr Blair's refusal to rule out them out, then accused the Labour government of bringing in tuition fees - currently 1,100 per annum - against its 1997 manifesto pledge.

On Thursday, the ruling council at Cambridge University signalled its concern over top-up fees.

The university issued a statement urging the government to look at other ways of addressing the financial crisis facing the higher education sector.

It is concerned that the introduction of top-up fees would deter the very people the university is trying to attract.

Other universities have been more supportive of higher fees - most notably Imperial College, London, last month unveiled proposals to charge students up to 10,500 a year.

The BBC's Mike Baker
"Charging more remains Downing Street's favoured option"
The BBC's Sue Littlemore
"This governmenet hasn't really changed the profile of who goes to university"

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Analysis: Mike Baker

Different approaches


See also:

14 Nov 02 | Education
14 Nov 02 | Education
09 Nov 02 | Mike Baker
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