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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 October 2006, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
West Midlands: Admission impossible
Nick Watson
Nick Watson
The Politics Show
West Midlands

Student in Blair mask
Students have protested to Parliament before about fees, or was that Tony Blair?

Thousands of students from across the Midlands will join a demonstration in London today, Sunday 29 October against the introduction of university top-up fees.

This year's intake will be the first to have to pay the new fees introduced by Labour.

Campaigners claim that the numbers applying to continue in higher education, will dwindle in the coming years because of the changes.

The new flexible top-up fees will add up to 3,000 a year to the debt already incurred through student loans.

But, the National Union of Students say this will add an extra 13,000 on average to each student's debt by the time they graduate.

Around 250 students from Warwick University are joining the trek south by coach, bound for the capital, and there were similar scenes at universities and colleges right across the Midlands.

Their slogan for the National Fees Day protest is "Admission: Impossible."

Spiralling debts

Alan Johnson
Will students really learn to "love top-up fees"?

They say it is becoming increasingly difficult for young people, especially the less well-off, to consider going into higher education.

They insist they will end up with debts averaging over 30,000.

And these difficulties become particularly acute when considering that a graduate's average starting salary is just 19,000 a year.

Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, controversially claimed that students would eventually "learn to love top-up fees".

But the NUS is not so sure. They spell out the union's position clearly...

"The NUS believes that university education should be free for all. We believe that education is a right, not a commodity, and that as a public service individuals should not be made to pay for it".

A case study from the NUS website sums up the concerns.

"I do not know anyone who has been to university from my estate," says James, aged 25, "and when the tuition fees rise, less will go. I would not have gone if tuition fees were so high."

Provisional figures from the admissions service Ucas, seem to back up those fears.

Nearly 390,000 applicants were accepted into higher education courses this year.

A year ago there were nearly 405,000. That is a fall of 3.7%.

This is proof, say the students, that young students are already being "priced out".

Never mind the gap

A handful of fivers
If the NUS were to have their way, students would be "quids in"

But last year's figure was inflated by thousands of extra students rushing-in ahead of top-up fees rather than taking gap years.

The figure for 2004 was 375,500 and this year's figure is 3.7% up on that. Proof, say the government, that the trend is still rising.

But the competition between universities like Warwick, Birmingham, Staffordshire and UCE is a walk in the park compared with the much bigger picture.

The wealthy Ivy-League American universities are running rings round ours, including Oxbridge. China, too, is investing massively in higher education.

That is why leading universities, including Birmingham are pressing for even higher top-up fees.

They are capped at 3,000 for the duration of this Parliament.

What is to follow?

There are rumours that Gordon Brown has indicated that if he is in office after the next election, he would consider lifting the cap, so that top up fees could increase beyond that 3,000 limit.

And that is the fundamental fear underlying today's day of protest.

Our Political Editor Patrick Burns has been to Warwick University to find out what the impact of top-up fees has been.

Also in the programme...

Another weekend, another "Save Our Hospital" march.

The streamlining of the NHS question refuses to go away

This time it is Warwick Hospital which is in the spotlight after a review of acute services there recommended a series of changes.

This includes a change in the way paediatric and maternity services are organised, an end to 24 hour emergency operating services and a centralising of cancer services at Coventry's University Hospital.

It is part of a wider review of health services in Coventry & Warwickshire and will also have an impact at the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton.

Critics claim it is simply a money driven exercise because of a 33m black hole in the finances of University Hospital.


But Professor Madeleine Atkins, who is chairing the Acute Services Review Board, explains: "As more care is provided on a day care basis and the length of stay in hospital falls, our hospitals have to downsize and we must rebalance our expenditure to provide more local and community services closer to people's homes."

Today, Sunday 29 October, there will be a march and rally in Warwick in which 158 balloons will be released in honour of the 158 years the hospital has served the community.

Our reporter Julie Peacock has been looking at the changes that will be needed if it is to remain for another 158 years.

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Join the Politics Show team... Sunday 29 October 2006 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.

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