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Last Updated: Monday, 27 October, 2003, 11:03 GMT
Students rally against top-up fees
Anti-fee demonstrators
Thousands of students marched through central London
Thousands of protesters have demonstrated against government plans for "top-up" fees for university courses.

The march through London on Sunday ended with a rally in Trafalgar Square, organised by the National Union of Students (NUS).

The government proposes charging up to 3,000 a year for tuition in England and Wales, which the NUS says will leave graduates with debts of up to 30,000.

The NUS said the turnout had been 31,000, while police estimated it to be nearer 10,000.

Among the speakers at the rally were former health secretary Frank Dobson, general secretary of lecturers union Natfhe Paul Mackney and higher education union leader Sally Hunt.

Anti-fees marchers on why they protested

NUS president Mandy Telford led the calls to scrap the proposals, which are included in legislation due to go before parliament later in the year.

She told BBC News Online: "This has been an amazing demonstration of feeling among students.

"It makes me more optimistic that we can beat the top-up fees plan. Students are getting involved in their thousands and the government should start listening.


"It's a long year ahead. This is only the beginning of our campaign."

Students assembled in Trafalgar Square waved sign-themed placards, declaring slogans like 'Give Way Tony', 'Stop Fees Now' and 'Access Denied'.

Means-tested 1,000 grants from 2004
Upfront tuition fees end 2006
Fees then vary - up to 3,000 a year
First 1,125 subsidised for poor
Payable from graduate salary of 15,000+
Zero-rated student loan up to 4,000 a year
New access regulator
Teaching-only "universities"
Research funding for the elite
50% participation through foundation degrees

Backbench MP Frank Dobson told the crowd it was "shameful" a Labour government was creating a "market" for university places.

"This idea is wrong and unfair. It's wrong in principle and wrong in practice," he said.

Sally Hunt, of the AUT, said students should turn their support for the demonstration into a "strong political campaign that would make it absolutely untenable for any Labour MP to vote in favour of top up fees".

But speaking before the protest, higher education minister Alan Johnson said the campaigners had "no hope" of changing the government's mind.

"The NUS has always had a dogmatic approach to graduates making any contribution," he told BBC News 24.

He said the policy was the fairest way to generate funds for investment and expansion in higher education, which would be "free at the point of access and fair at the point of repayment" by 2006.

NUS President Mandy Telford
NUS President Mandy Telford said the fight would go on

"The taxpayer is putting in a huge contribution. We say taxpayers should pay the lion's share, but graduates should make a contribution."

Ms Telford told an earlier press conference the government had to listen, or risk doing "enormous damage both to itself and to higher education".

Ms Telford said with 140 Labour MPs on their side, the rally was only the beginning of a "continued assault" on the government's policy.

She also warned the fees would create a "two-tier system" of education.

Currently, most undergraduates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland pay up to 1,125 a year in tuition fees.

Under government plans universities will be able to charge "differential" rates of up to 3,000 from 2006 to help fund its target of getting "towards 50%" of young people into higher education by 2010.

The Association of Colleges said it supported the higher fees, but argued that these should be paid by all students, rather than having a sliding scale depending on course and institution.

The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"Universities need more money"

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