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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 April, 2004, 09:19 GMT 10:19 UK
Is the government right on top-up fees?

Labour has defeated a revolt by its own MPs against plans to allow universities to charge variable top-up fees.

Ministers defeated rebels by 316 to 288 votes to keep the controversial plan in the flagship Higher Education Bill.

The government wants to allow universities in England to charge fees up to 3,000 per year in order to increase funding for higher education.

But critics claim the move would introduce a "two-tier system" which would see students being priced out.

What do you think of the outcome of the vote? Will top-up fees work? Or is there a better way to fund higher education?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of the opinions we have received:

Through direct taxation I am repaying the investment the state has made in me and my future
Jonny, England
Last month alone the government took nearly 8,000 in income tax from my pay packet. The fact that I enjoy this level of income is due at least in part to my degree. Through direct taxation I am repaying the investment the state has made in me and my future. Now the government seems to think that as well as taking this much tax from future graduates they should pay for their education as well. Come on Labour - you can't have high taxes to pay for public services and then charge us to use the services we've already paid for.
Jonny, England

Has anyone considered the effect that this will have on the economy? Students graduating will be unable to take on mortgages until the student debt is paid off. The housing market will slump, and the banks will carry on cashing in the interest on the loans.
Sandy, Galashiels, Scotland

We have one child starting university in Sept 2004, the other will go in 2009. The first will probably leave with 10-15,000 of debt and the second 30-40,000. I fear that the effect of this draconian bill will be to deter my second child from going to university at all. The nation cannot afford to send everyone to university. There should be a limited number of places which should be available based on ability (and not ability to pay).
Robert, Ambersham

Hopefully this will help convince some children to learn a trade rather than follow the sheep to university. Plumbers, electricians, carpenters etc, often earn more money than the majority of people with degrees. They also have far less debt when they start their career.
David R, Plymouth

Why is the Government willing to compromise on such a vital cog in the wheel our economy?
Lawrence Wilson, England

The Government is in effect diluting the quality of a university education and then charging students more for the privilege. Why is the Government willing to compromise on such a vital cog in the wheel our economy? This decision will be felt further down the line and come back to bite us all.
Lawrence Wilson, England

The country provides free education up to the age 18. If you decide to go beyond that then you should pay. I expect to pay tax for education but should someone aged 18 who did not quite make the grade for University Education (but tried damn hard) have to subsidise their peers who want it for free - does not sound right to me.
Derek, England

No. Education, education, education said Blair. Now - only those who can pay?
John Cord, Basildon, UK

It is a shame that the Labour Government puts illegal wars and unnecessary payments to farmers ahead of education.
Peter Robinson, Southport, England

If the UK wants to remain competitive within the global economy it has little choice but to catch up. Face the facts: the UK can no longer support a 'free for all' higher education.
Jackie, UK

As a student who does not pay any fees at the moment, as my family are low-earners, I will still graduate this year with over 13,000 of debt. By the SLC calculations, I'll still be paying this off in 20 years time. With top-up fees, I will still get the first 1000 free, but have to pay 2000 per year extra. So, that's 20,000 of debt. The whole premise of this is that graduates earn more, so they should pay more, but surely we already do as we fall into higher tax bands? It seems very unfair for the state to saddle any of its citizens with 20k of debt when it is in the state's interest to educate its populace.
Steve, Manchester

Is the government right on anything any more?
David Howe, Chelmsford, UK

I will (hopefully) be starting at university in 2006. These top-up fees worry me a lot. Perhaps if the fees were spread evenly across the whole of the UK it might lessen the cost? Why are they only being applied to England, when it is the votes of MPs from other UK countries that has made them a future reality?
Nichola Richardson, Brighton, England

Education is a right, not a privilege to those who can pay
Nick, High Wycombe

Students - if you want a first class education pay for it yourself, you will appreciate the sacrifices you made to attain the qualification of your choice all the more if you have no one to thank but yourselves. In return I promise not to make you pay for things in life that I want.
Roger, Whitwick, England

Why don't the brigade that seem to think "I got where I am today without university so why should I pay for others" stop being so selfish and go and live in a tax haven somewhere? I am a product of the system where we still got grants and pay much more tax than some of my friends who did not go to university. I am paying my debt back and so will others.

Education is a right, not a privilege to those who can pay. The signs are there - a huge backbench rebellion last time and a general lack of support across the country. Listen to the people Labour, it is after all meant to be government for the people, of the people, by the people.
Nick, High Wycombe

It's quite simple. If the money went direct to the universities most students wouldn't mind a small increase. However, students borrow it from the government, and essentially pay it back to the government, the only people at the universities that see this money is admin staff. The money is passed around and never spent properly. No wonder students are outraged. Why is the system so complicated?
Vicki, London

Why do we need so many university graduates? It will soon be a case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians. A plumber will mend my central heating system but I will probably not call in a specialist in Medieval history.
A Merritt, Portsmouth, England

Whether you agree or not the most annoying thing is the hypocrisy in the arguments. The Education Minister said this morning that he thought it was right for 18+ year-olds to be treated as adults and allowed to make their own decisions of whether they wanted to go to university and get into debt. However, the amount of debt is based upon the income of the parents - how is this logical?
Andrew Holmes, Bracknell

If the debt is too great then maybe they should cut down on the number of nights out they have
Steve, Loughborough

The government is always quick to point out that graduates earn more than non-graduates but this also means that we pay more tax anyway. Then on top of that we have to pay back student loans and overdrafts. This will be almost 50% of our earnings. Graduates pay enough already!
Ross, Nottingham, UK

Surely the government's efforts to push more people through to a university education will devalue degrees, thus lowering graduate starting salaries. Pushing more people through will only result in an abundance of graduates with useless degrees and empty pockets.
Adrian, UK

I can't understand why people have a problem with top-up fees. They are paid when, and only when, the graduate can afford to, thereby eliminating debt. They will stop the unfair means tested fees that are in place at the moment, and will help eliminate debt and allow students from all backgrounds to get the same education (subject to their abilities). As a recent graduate, I truly believe that people should pay for what they get. After all, 3000 is not much in the grand scheme of things.
JJ, Norwich, UK

I see no problem in paying the money back after graduating. At least it won't stop people going who were unable to stump up the cash up front. What is worrying is the regulation of the fees. Will it be increased year on year and become uncontrollable like the council tax?
Graeme, Bristol, UK

There are far more people going to uni these days, and if the debt is too great then maybe they should cut down on the number of nights out they have. You only have to ask anyone who lives in a small town with a local university what they think and you will get a totally different point of view to the plight of the poor downtrodden student who can only afford to eat beans on toast.
Steve, Loughborough

Whether or not the introduction of top-up fees is the right thing to do is irrelevant: the government gave an assurance in their manifesto that top-up fees would not be introduced
Paul, Leics, UK

Our government still isn't listening. I am only 15 years old and I do not see how I am going to pay for my university education. Myself and my parents are greatly concerned.
James Mulligan, Leeds, England

I don't think many students would really object to paying for their education, the question is whether top-up fees are the best way. The government refused to even publish their findings on other options. Graduate tax would arguably be more equitable since the amount of money which they pay is proportional to the amount of financial benefit that their degree gives in terms of increased income.

The thresholds currently set are derisory, students find themselves paying money back when they are earning below the national average wage in an economy where the average wage will not even buy an average house. My personal student debt is over 12,000 even though I never had a credit card or significant overdraft, if you added 2000 per year to that under the new system and consider that four-year degrees are becoming more common I could have easily owed over 20,000 before I even entered the job market.
Christian , Liverpool, UK

The government wants to have its cake and eat it! It wants to increase enrolment in universities but at the same time is putting many students off by allowing top-up fees. It can't have both, it simply won't happen. If more people get degrees it devalues having a degree and it is no longer a necessity to achieve career aspirations. If on top of that they charge extra cash it is simply not going to be worth the extra pay out to get a degree as it no longer guarantees you a decent job when you finish.
Adrian, UK

Whether or not the introduction of top-up fees is the right thing to do is irrelevant. The government gave an absolute assurance in their manifesto that top-up fees would not be introduced. They should abide by the promises they made.
Paul, Leics, UK

If you want something, expect to pay for it. A degree in a recognised subject will pay its way. The taxpayer should not be expected to fund a degree in Underwater Basket Weaving.
Ginger, UK

What use is putting 50% of students through university when society does not require that level of skills to fill the available and emerging jobs?
Dan, Edinburgh

The answer is NOT top-up fees, it is fewer University places. In my experience, university is NOT suitable for all. It should really be for those who have the ability to do the work on REAL courses rather than trivial subjects such as 'media studies' or 'Klingon'. With fewer students, the universities would be able to spend more per student, thus improving the quality of education. The real reason for the Government's plans to get more school leavers into university is so that they're not claiming Jobseeker's Allowance.
Colin, Swanscombe, UK

American universities charge up to $40,000 per year, and each year the number of students grows. Obviously the majority of people cannot afford $40,000 a year - the difference is made up by federal or state loans, grants and scholarships. Many students do graduate with debt, but they graduate with a meaningful degree having enjoyed the best facilities in the world for their education. It is a student's choice whether they want to go on to uni or not, but we do well to remember the old saying: "you get what you pay for."
Mark, Weybridge, UK

50% graduation is a throwback to the communist era. It will not work unless you lower the grades and courses, how could it?
Kevin Carr, Romford England

The government's education policy appears to be heading from the sublime to the ridiculous with increasing rapidity. What use is putting 50% of students through university education when our society does not require that level of skills to fill the available and emerging jobs?

The areas we are desperately short of skilled people in are not those requiring media studies degrees, but skilled trades. There are so many problems waiting to emerge - we are developing a society in which debt is the norm and young people are not used to living within their means but rely on debt as a solution. What are the future implications of this for society? Why can we find endless amounts of money for the military but not for health and education? It's no wonder social service provisions are on a tight budget when (I'm lead to believe) the levels of tax on many higher earners and businesses are lower now than they were under the Thatcher government.
Dan, Edinburgh
This government still isn't listening
Graham Shelton, Oxford, England

No, no, no. A million times no. This government still isn't listening. We need academically and fiscally free elite universities educating fewer, better students. Only stupid people would vote for anything else.
Graham Shelton, Oxford, England

As a tax-payer and former student, I still have not figured out why students are moaning. At the moment, they have to pay the 1000 fees upfront. Now under the new bill, they pay back the 3000 fee after they start earning! All that it means is that they have to be more budget aware like the rest of the tax paying population.
Roshan, UK

I think education should be fully funded by the government but, if it can't be, I suppose it's better to put the money in the NHS. After all, people can live without higher education but not without a decent health service.
Anna, Nottingham

I didn't care about top up fees until I started looking for Masters degrees and realized that I was taking the fee into account. However the anti-top up fee people seem to have no other alternative to meeting the funding crisis in Universities.
Matthew Freedman, London UK

Wouldn't top up fees be detrimental to wider participation in higher education?
Linda, Hull, UK

I don't get it! The Government talks about wider participation in universities - giving everyone a chance to take part in university education regardless of who we are or our backgrounds. Then it decides to bring in top up fees. Wouldn't top up fees be detrimental to wider participation in higher education? Or is the Government just kidding when it talks about wider participation?
Linda, Hull, UK

Education, Education, Education was Tony Blair's comment in 1997. So what happens, it is made even more expensive to gain a good higher education! Not exactly encouraging!
Alan, Birmingham

Education is a basic right for everyone in a civilised society. I strongly disagree with charging individual students. The Nation's economy depends upon education.
Stephen Monk, Leicester, England

If it was a matter of top-up fees applying to the whole of the UK, I might be able to think about the matter more calmly. The fact that they will only apply to England makes me very annoyed. How can this make sense?
Amelia Pledger, Cambridge, England

So what next - we'll be being charged by the hour to have a place in an NHS bed. Perhaps that would be a good episode for that IF series: "IF the government decided to charge us all twice for public services ... "
Rob H, UK

I would just like to thank the government for increasing the value of my degree. This is because I got mine before New Labour's social-engineering project started, and when degrees actually meant something in the academic job market.
Robbie, UK

We need a different policy altogether
David, Leicester, UK

The market can't support and doesn't need hordes of mediocre graduates with dubious degrees and low actual skills. We need a different policy altogether.
David, Leicester, UK

Has anyone spotted the crucial flaw in the system? The more students that go to university, the more they will have to pay because the government's grants will be spread thinner. Also the more people that go to university, the less a degree will be valued by employers. QED the more a degree costs, the less it is worth. Can we please go back to when 5% of people went to university and courses were free, and degrees highly prized.
Mike, Ipswich UK

My daughter is already in debt over 12,000.00 still has one year to complete her degree. She is on a placement year where this month about 1/3 of the staff were made redundant with work being outsourced to Sri Lanka. With big loans, very little job prospects, should the Government not be doing something about Job prospects in this Country before going on with top up fees?
Raj Sodha, Leicester. UK

I don't know which side to take as top-up fees will benefit me because of having a poor background, but so many people will be unable to attend higher education because of it.
Emily, Cambs

Refuse funding for worthless courses such as brass-rubbing and Klingon Language. Then watch as the students for the worthwhile courses nip abroad to take advantage of free education in Europe!
Moo, London, UK

Higher education should be for all who can cope with it, regardless of economic background
Alex, Edinburgh

Graduates pay way higher taxes so they contribute significantly to the economy. However, the debt burden is pretty bad. It could be 10 years or more before many graduates get a clear chance at proper earning. This is pretty unfair. The government have introduces 60 back door taxes. Where is all this money going? The country's in a really sorry state, and Labour have to go next election.
Karl, Guildford

I think higher education should be for all who can cope with it, regardless of economic background. Without using top-up fees, I would make University entrance much harder in terms of capability, qualifications and the course itself more exacting.

That, in turn, would greatly increase the value of a qualification, reduce the number of dropouts and allow the money that does exist within the system to be directed where it'll be of most use. As a mature student, I found many of the assessments quite simple to pass so the modern degree is not what it's made out to be. I believe we should get back to basics and make degrees the domain of the intellectually not financially elite.
Alex, Edinburgh

It's a myth to say that top up fees will not have a negative effect on people going to university. I graduated in 1997, as a mature student being the first in my family to go into further education (A level) let alone university. I, and many of the mature students that I meet could not have afforded to go to university without the grant and we still had to take the student loan in order to survive financially.

Top up fees is a backwards move for families such as mine, where I will have two children going through the university system together. It is likely to end in me having to make a decision as to which of my children goes and which does not. As usual in this country we have not moved forwards, we have moved backwards in time. Higher education from now on will go to those who can afford it rather than those who have the ability.

The top up fee system is fair top taxpayers like me, who did not go to university but earn a good salary
Kev, UK

And to those who say it is the student's debt not the parents, could you sit back and watch as your child either virtually starves or puts their hard earned university education at risk by having to work long hours for the minimum wage (students are no more than cheap labour) for up to 12 hours a day whilst trying to meet all of the academic requirements of their education. Shame on this so-called Labour government.
L Randall , Leicester

It's a fallacy that graduates end up with better paid jobs and so pay more tax. Most don't. The top up fee system is fair to taxpayers like me, who did not go to university but earn a good salary should not have to pay for students. I'd much rather my extra tax go toward old age pensioners and children.
Kev, UK

Something must be done about people going to university who are not serious about education. A growing percentage of students are leaving without completing courses or getting degrees. I think this is because they have nothing invested in completing their degree courses. The government is right on this for the wrong reasons.
B J Nicholson, Manchester, England

Surely education should be one of the key priorities of this government. As a student (aged 25) who has only just realised my own potential, I can barely afford to study in the current climate. It seems the government is trying to introduce deterrents and make higher education even more inaccessible. Totally the wrong move Tony!
Alan McKinney, Brighton, East Sussex

In the USA, which Blair seems to idolise so much, universities have top up fees, but they also have paid fundraisers in their universities that make up the short fall of funds that top up fees don't match. Plus, most of the less well off people in the USA don't go to university. One more point, we are not American, we are British! Let's not go down the path of Americanism please. Blair, go to American if you like it so much.
Nathan, UK

Rather than face a massive loan debt at the end of university I would probably have followed my father and become a printer
Roger Jackson, Stockport

Higher fees and the prospect of large debts will certainly put many off going to university. I went to grammar school and Cambridge University in 1970. I was the first person from my family to go to University. My father was a printer and my mother was a secretary so they were not rich but not poor enough to get a full grant. Rather than face a massive loan debt at the end of university I would probably have followed my father and become a printer. By the same age I would have been earning more than a fresh graduate with no debt. It seems an ideal scheme to get more plumbers.
Roger Jackson, Stockport, England

The average increase due to top-up fees will be about 10 a day, so I can't see a problem - most students I know spend that on a round of drinks at wine bar, or on a bottle cheap wine and 12" pizza.
Steve G, Gateshead, UK

It's not the rich or the poor students who are going to be worst hit by this - it's the students who come from ordinary middle class families who miss out on qualifying for subsidies but to whom 3,000 per year is still a huge some of money. Shame on Labour! This legislation only got through on the votes of Scottish MPs even though top up fees are not being introduced in Scotland.
Sheila Chalmers, Bromley, UK

How can this be fair when the government have wasted 44k per student with the UKeU project? A system set up to encourage overseas students to get UK degrees. Why not give the 44k to our students?
Tony, UK, Rochdale

Why do we still get comments about parents not being able to afford this? The debt belongs to the student not the parent.
Dave, Croydon

How difficult is it to understand? You only pay top up fees after you graduate. If anything, it will reduce the rich/poor divide by costing nothing upfront as opposed to the current system. Students will only start paying the fees after they've graduated and have got a suitably well paid job; At which point they should be standing on their own two feet anyway and not reliant on their families.
Col Summers, Northampton

Graduates tend to get better-paid jobs than other people, so they will already be paying more tax throughout their lifetime. Why should they pay twice?
Nicola, Bristol

This government is giving us the worst of both worlds
HJ, Wokingham, Berks
The government correctly points out that many other countries have found it necessary to have fees in order to finance higher education. However, it omits to mention that these countries (USA, Australia, etc) also have much lower tax rates. In the higher tax countries like ours, charges have not been introduced. How are graduates meant to pay high taxes and repay their fees? This government is giving us the worst of both worlds.
HJ, Wokingham, Berks

I attended university, finishing 4 years ago and still owe around 5000 which I pay at 290 per month. The oxymoron here is that when I visited a mortgage advisor recently I was advised that I'd need about 20,000 cash deposit to get on the property ladder. The Labour government has got something desperately wrong and doesn't seem to appear to be trying to help. I don't see why the government sees a need to have such a high number of graduates if there's not a market to sustain these numbers.
Adrian, Leeds

A doctor after a six years study will be under a 64000 loan on the first day of his job and we all know that he/she needs to live in rented accommodation or buy a house (which is very difficult considering house prices). This will not help the NHS to get more doctors when they will weigh their expenses and expenditures and compare it with other professions.
Munawar Hussain, Gloucestershire

It is hard enough as is to attract graduates and post-graduates into academic and non-industrial research (i.e. the bulk of cancer/medical research) even without the prospect of big debts. I very much doubt that university chancellors are going to pass on any additional money to their academics. If the government want to turn the UK into a nation of lawyers and accountants (and politicians!) then fine, plough on with these reforms. However, if it wants people that do "useful" jobs then it needs to backtrack to its original manifesto commitments.
Pete, London, UK

Why not have a system of sponsorship for things like doctors/nurses etc? There should be an arrangement where med students and nurses have their fees paid and a reasonable, realistic bursary to live on whilst training, conditional upon them having to contractually agree to serve a set amount of time working in the NHS/public sector. A similar arrangement could be made for teachers and other posts which benefit the wider community. Media studies and other such degrees of less use should be funded by loans.
Mary, UK

There is just not enough predicted demand in the job market for the numbers of graduates
Victor, Oxford, UK

Whether the Government chooses to recognise it or not, there is just not enough predicted demand in the job market for the numbers of graduates it has chosen to encourage. These graduates are going to find it very difficult to find employment in their chosen field (or they will leave our country - brain drain). Salaries will be reduced as supply far exceeds the demand.
The solution? Tie University places to projected jobs demand - educate fewer therefore - select only those showing the most promise for academic success through test scores and school history - drop fees altogether and provide a free university education to anyone selected. For the rest of us, promote specialist industry and trade schools to fill our skilled labour and technical positions. Any other solution is economically unwise and will turn into a serious burden for all of Britain.
Victor, Oxford, UK

I don't think they should increase the fees. Access to education should be a constitutional right without conditions. The hike would basically price poorer families out of higher education. If there has to be an increase is to have it means tested. Unfortunately, it means that wealthier families would have to pay but at least most can afford to pay. The poorer families have no hope. Perhaps we could get more corporate funding for special awards or degrees run in conjunction with a company
Mark Costello, London, England

It would certainly improve the quality of education. Newer poly/universities would have to ensure the education provided by them was top notch and also that the qualifications they awarded were respected in industry. Otherwise they could only charge a minimal fee.
Giles Clinker, London, UK

Top-up fees are a bad idea in the current format. One suggestion : IF they have to be introduced, how about a discount dependent on grade achieved. Those who go to university to slack will pay the full amount; those who reach the top-grade pay a negligible amount or nothing.
A Sweeting, Leicester, UK

There are plenty of people who do not and did not attend university, but yet have to foot the bill to keep them running, people who pay will also not waste their time dropping in and out of various courses when it suits.
Sean, Wirral

As a student I'd rather not pay for my 24,000 education, but I find it hard to justify why anyone else should. The real issue is that the Government wants 50% of us to be paying 3000 a year for our education. Can the Government truly believe that courses like "Roadwork management" make us more productive workers? And even so can it make up for 3 YEARS of lost productivity? And is it really worth 9000???
Rob, London

Top up fees are needed to keep high quality research going in the UK
Mark, Sheffield
UK Universities need more money. It is clear that Gordon and Tony have judged that the UK public are not willing to pay their share through a graduate tax, therefore upfront fees are needed. Top up fees are needed to keep high quality research going in the UK (something almost never mentioned in this debate) and keep international students interested in taking our courses (which is a great source of foreign currency to help prop up the UK trade deficit).
Mark, Sheffield

As a soon-to-be student I am personally in favour of top-up fees. This is because unlike most students, I have done my research and discovered that they will actually benefit most students. Mainly because it eradicates the need for means testing which benefits families like mine that previously were penalised for having a middle income. Also, almost every other country in the world has to pay for their education so why on earth should we get off for free? People need to accept that it is going to happen and focus on the positive aspects instead of the negative all of the time.
Paul Davies, Bournemouth, UK

The government should back down and fund universities properly through taxation. If a degree gives higher earning power the graduate pays more tax, it's as simple as that! As a parent I want to do the best for my children and that is not to burden them with record levels of debt.
timothy Joyce, Wirral, UK

The truth is that not all students who go to university do so to increase their earning potential. Some may do it to increase the standard of living for people in this country and abroad. To understand and cure medical and social ills. These people will not get the highest salaries and may actually be worse off financially (lifetime earnings) after student loans and tiny PhD studentships. Should we really punish those who go to university to better our society? Universities should be funded by a tax on high-earners (many of who may be university graduates) and we need to scrap this ridiculous target of getting 50% of young people into universities and concentrate on educating the people who really need a degree for their career.
Anna, UK

Student numbers and universities should be cut back, with grants going to those who deserve to be there
Jonathan, Caterham, UK
This university system is a joke. A lot of universities don't deserve the name and should be downgraded back to polytechnics. The number of students at university is far too high, swelled by the existence of Mickey mouse degrees and low entrance requirements based on ever easier 'A levels'. Student numbers and universities should be cut back, with grants going to those who deserve to be there. The rest should be able to opt for on-the-job training or study for vocational qualifications.
Jonathan, Caterham, UK

It seems to me like the government is moving to make education a place for the rich and the rich alone. First they almost completely abolish grants, and now labour seeks to increase the already ridiculous debt that each student will bear through university. I myself am already in more than 5000 debt and I am only half way through my course. I can only be glad of one thing, I wont still be in university when the fees arrive.
Mark, Dundee

If Chairman Tony and his cronies are so keen to get this bill through parliament we the electorate should ask all MPs in favour of top-up fees who benefited from grant assisted free university education, as a gesture of their support, to reimburse the country for their education by a sum similar to the debt that future students will have around their necks after graduation. I'm sure if the media made this proposal strongly enough support for top-up fees would strangely disappear.
Reg Thrumper, Sutton, Surrey

Universities need more investment from the government and from private funding
Bernard John, London
Universities need more investment from the government and from private funding. To charge students who are already getting themselves into huge amounts of debt is ridiculous. With concern growing about the amount of debt people are getting into with credit cards, surely it is not a good idea to give young people a head start with debt by making them pay large amounts of money for higher education? For a lucky few, parents will foot the bill. The rest of us will either have to sacrifice our education to avoid becoming another member of Gordon Brown's "Credit-card nation."
Bernard John, London

What is the point of paying high taxes as we do if not to fund education? What's next, variable fees for hospitals?
Graham, Cambridge

A common criticism is that young people are being asked to pay for something that their parents got for free. The truth is however, that young people are being afforded opportunities that were never able to the majority of their parents. Twenty or thirty years ago only 5% of the population would have attended University. The figure is now closer to 50%. How wonderful that the "poverty of opportunity" is being eradicated in this manner.
Norman O'Mahoney, Mottingham, London

Do they care what the public thinks? They are going to ignore us as always and do it. They have been doing it for years now. That's the reason in order to have a good government that listens you need a strong opposition.
Theo, Uxbridge, England

Fundamentally essential qualifications should not just be free of fees but also have generous grants
Becky, Bristol
Higher fees should be charged for some of the more frivolous degrees that are provided. Women's studies? Science in Society? I'm not sure what these even are! Basic core degrees should be free of Fees. Doctors, teachers engineers and other fundamentally essential qualifications should not just be free of fees but also have generous grants to encourage people to study them.
Becky, Bristol

Am I missing something? How will a system that only charges students once they have got a well paid job see people being priced out? I came out of university nearly 4 years ago with around 10k's worth of loans. I am now earning 10k more a year than I would without a degree. A simple calculation shows that over the course of my working life I'll earn nearly half a million pounds more than I would have without a degree! And people are moaning about having to pay back a paltry 3k?!!
Phil, London, UK

3,000 a year for education? I don't see what the problem is. In the states you couldn't get into a trade school for that little money. For a university you're looking at 30,000 dollars or more. It's ridiculous to even think of complaining about the newly instated top up fees. Plus if you have to pay for your education you will appreciate it more, take it more seriously.
Chris Peterson, Minnesota

Inconsistent as ever, the government wishes to charge students who want to study a life-time mortgage for attending university, while paying students who don't want to learn 30 a week to attend school. The logic defeats me. Meanwhile, with no surprise, we learn that average graduate salaries have fallen in the last two years because of over-supply. That shoots Charles Clarke's justification for charging university students right out of the water.
John McNeil, Helensburgh, Scotland

The whole debate sounds like we're back in the middle ages
Timothy, London, UK
There is no need to create more university places. A lot of graduates, even at present, can not get graduate jobs and have to do low paid jobs having incurred debts to the tune of 15K. Having graduated from one of the top universities with 2.1 I am still unemployed. I would have been much better off if I had qualified as an electrician or a plumber rather then going to the top university, yet alone a "new" university. Those that do enrol for university courses should quiz the admission tutors about destinations of their graduates to avoid an unpleasant surprise.
John, Oxford, UK

Yes the Government should stand firm. When these graduates, who have a degree in 'media studies' or some other degree which is totally useless start earning vast amounts of money they can pay it back - why should I, whose parents helped me through higher education, whilst I did 2 jobs pay for them ?
Gill Russell, Redditch, England

Soon education will again be a privilege for the rich and that is so wrong. I have two sons who both want to go to University but my husband and I do not earn much and cannot see how we will be able to afford it.
Jackie Masters, Plymouth, UK

What next? Get Soldiers, nurses, police officers to pay for their training? The whole debate sounds like we're back in the middle ages. Great start to the 21st Century!
Timothy, London, UK

How can this be anything but fair?
Catherine Dawson, Exeter
This is surely a fair deal for all. Speaking as a recent graduate, higher education has been chronically under funded. All students will benefit from higher educational standards, as will society as a whole. The burden is being removed from parents who cannot afford university fees, and no parent will be able to buy better advantages for their children. The poorest 30% of students will have free grants restored - 3000 up-front. Paying the fees back is not difficult on a graduate salary, and low-paid graduates will not pay back the fees, and will have them written off completely after 25 years. How can this be anything but fair?
Catherine Dawson, Exeter

How does charging huge fees increase access to higher education? Surely it limits access to those who can afford it. The people in favour of top-up fees are in a very small minority, but the government are so arrogant, they can't admit when they are wrong.
Phil Rogers, Bournemouth, UK

Yes of course they should stand firm. If they do not, then it is Joe Public who will foot the bill through higher taxes. I am a graduate and absolutely nothing would have stopped me going to university, debt or no debt, because I knew it would lead to a better lifestyle and I pay top rate tax now because of it. The only people top-up fees will stop are those that would drop out anyway after a year.
Barry Lowry, Hornchurch Essex

The system should be free and will be the foundation for generations to come
MS, London
The government is obliged to the people of this country to provide education that will benefit the country for the future. The system should be free and will be the foundation for generations to come. No wonder we are looking elsewhere for skilled and competent people as our own are getting rubbed out of the equation and this fee business will make it far worse.
MS, London

The government will have no moral grounds upon which to stand firm until Charles Clarke and every other member of the parliamentary party who was fully grant funded for their further education repays the cost of it. Hypocrites.
Dave H, Aylesbury , UK

The government is right. Students should be expected to pay for their education - we in the marketplace have to pay for any training and education we undertake. The fact that students will not need to repay this until they are earning a fair market salary seems to be being slightly overlooked by many people, but basically, should a student finish education and decide to take a low paid job or vocation they will still not have to repay these fees - this seems an honourable procedure all round to me.
John, Maidstone, UK

University education should be available to all, this means it should be free for all those that are capable of study at the required level. Fewer, but free places are better than more but expensive places. Another possible way of saving money is to charge students who fail to complete their course (complete not necessarily pass) this would stop those who just go for a good time. We have shortage of doctors, dentists and scientist in this country, don't discourage them further by making university almost as expensive as buying a house.
Anon, UK

Top up fees will drive students from poorer backgrounds out of university. Variable fees will drive poorer students out of our best universities. The Government should do what its manifesto promised and abandon this plan now.
Richard, Gloucester, UK

There's a better way - it's called taxation
Nigel Strudwick, Cambridge UK

Yes, there's a better way - it's called taxation. That way, the more you earn, the more you pay for education, and the reverse - what could be fairer? What frightens me about paying fees for higher education is, when will it stop? Blair and co (and I) got a good university education from the state, so why shouldn't young people of today have the same benefit?
Nigel Strudwick, Cambridge UK

It seems like a pretty efficient way of accelerating the already record divide between rich and poor in the UK.
Terry, Manchester

We should follow the American model whereby ex students are encouraged by generous tax breaks to make large donations to their old universities which then provides the funds for future undergraduates. It is a disgrace that MPs who enjoyed free higher education themselves should think it fine to saddle the current generation with huge debts at such a young age.
Jean, Cornwall UK

It is the height of hypocrisy where those who got their university education free are demanding that the students of the future should pay
Craig Tanswell, Bournemouth, UK
I think it is the height of hypocrisy where those who got their university education free are demanding that the students of the future should pay. Maybe the idea of a graduate tax is unpopular with politicians because they know that someone just might realise it could be retrospective - and that would mean they would have to pay too!
Craig Tanswell, Bournemouth, UK

It is exceptionally divisive and yet another 'stealth tax' aimed at the middle classes - the government know thousands of families will do their best to help their kids get by without crippling debts. Such debts mean fewer graduates will be willing to take lower-paid jobs despite there being no corresponding rise in highly paid jobs. As a consequence of this imbalance we'll have fewer graduates, and a less well educated country - which goes right against government aims. The nation should be prepared to invest in the future of this country- which by-and-large it is; I think the PM has got it wrong going against his manifesto pledges.
JR, London, UK

What bugs me is the fact that we fund free tuition fees for Scotland.
Paul Sealey, Cannock, England

The proposed Bill is not in the interests of students or tax payers. Not all employment that needs degree level qualifications are well paid, that will lead to fewer people being recruited in those areas. Also we are already as a nation in so much debt, to send young people out to start their working lives with 20,000+ student loans is a big mistake. The whole Bill needs to be scrapped and start again.
Jo Bullock, England

The country benefits from an educated workforce, let the country pay
Norman Pickthall, Middlesbrough
No upfront fees! What we should have is no fees at all. Yes, someone has to pay. That someone should be the taxpayer. The country benefits from an educated workforce, let the country pay. It's hypocritical that the present government had a free education and they now deny that to present day students.
Norman Pickthall, Middlesbrough

I feel it is necessary to point out that it is the universities - not the government - who are insisting on the right to charge more to go to university. The government are only allowing them to do so. The bald fact is that more money is needed and it either comes from the people who attend university (via a fee or a graduate tax) or from central funds in which case everyone pays, including those who never went to university. Either way more money is desperately needed if a UK university degree is to maintain its status in the world market.
Chris, Oxford, UK

Top-up fees are a fair way of funding education as it ensures the users pay rather than already overburdened taxpayers. Fees should be extended to all education.
Martin, England

Another middle class tax. The poor will get grants and the rich will be able to afford it. Surely the best solution is to get rid of the 50% target and cut funding for the courses that offer no benefit to the country.
Peter, Bristol

Charging university students 3000 per year for fees will drive this country to the point where all professionals are from either 'rich backgrounds' or 'foreign nations'. A stigma is already attached to university students as either being "upper class" or "wasters". University education is invaluable (for certain careers) and our standards will simply drop compared with other countries. I simply believe that a student upon completing university successfully should pay no fees as they were determined and committed enough to achieve the qualification. The people who must be charged are those who see university as a four-year holiday and drop out once it gets too hard!
Steven Simpson, Sunderland

The only realistic way of getting more money into the system is to get students to pay a greater proportion of the costs
Evan Jones, Bristol
I, like many other university lecturers, support this Bill. We do so because the last twenty-five years has shown that the public is not willing to pay higher taxes to maintain, let alone improve, standards of teaching and research in universities. The only realistic way of getting more money into the system is thus to get students to pay a greater proportion of the costs.

Having said this, a tax on those who benefited from free higher education subsidies before the 1990s should also be considered. Tony Blair is right to point out that students should pay more because they are the ones that benefit most from university. This was clearly true of our Prime Minister, along with many other wealthy people who attended university between the 1960s and 1980s. So why not get such wealthy graduates to make a contribution through a "windfall" tax? If those who benefited the most from free higher education were required to make such a one-off payment, the monies raised could be use d to endow bursaries for future generations of students.
Evan Jones, Bristol

As a worker I object to the relentless increasing taxation burden imposed on me by the state. As a parent I object to having to then pay from what is left to ensure my children get a good standard of education. In 10 years a degree will be a necessity and these fees are only the start. It's a stealth tax which will only escalate.
David, London, UK

Why is this government obsessed with University degrees? They are de-valuing the qualification by over subscribing it. How many jobs actually require a degree? Won't there be a lot of debt burdened people fighting for a few jobs and lots more who will be bitterly disappointed? I think this nation should focus on apprenticeships as well so we do not have to rely on migrant workers with skills whilst we churn out people with degrees with no hope of ever getting a job to merit the qualification.
Duncan, Salisbury, UK

Top-up fees are a regressive idea which will ensure that access to higher education is limited to the well-off, without actually addressing the question of the long-standing funding problems faced by universities.
Bob, Reading, UK

The Government should back down over fees. Universities do need more money but this bill will not deliver either enough money or a fair system for students. There is now plenty of evidence that students from poorer backgrounds will be put off higher education. The Government should increase University funding paid for by an addition on Income Tax for graduates - simple and cheap to collect and dependent on income.
Richard, Portsmouth, UK

Does anyone, apart from the government, actually want this system? It feels like I will need to invest heavily for my children if they are to be granted access to a good university. If this is the case it is wrong. Access to universities should be granted based on merit, not on the bank balance of one's parents.
Neil Duffield, Gloucester, UK

Yes the government must stand firm. Those that gain directly from a University education (ok I know the country gain indirectly) must pay. The only question is how. I would like to see some kind of exclusion (over time) for those students that enter public service.
Phil Eadie, London, UK

The government should back down. I went through university and now earn just about enough to start paying off my overdraft - not even thinking about the 10,000 I owe the student loans company. How am I supposed to pay this back when it starts charging commercial rates of interests as I've now heard it will? The government should abolish fees altogether, and stop spending its money on war and weapons.
Linden, Stevenage, England

I graduated from university ten years ago, what I have learnt has helped me greatly in my career. However, it sickens me to think that if I were forced to repay a loan company for every day I spent in further education, I might still be repaying them to this day, and so might not see any real financial benefits from actually having a degree. I pay tax on every penny I earn, so the government already benefits from any financial benefits my degree brings. To charge student any extra is wrong.
Michael Liff, London

Variable fees will create a two tier professional market where everyone with 'expensive' degrees goes into the private sector and our public services are staffed entirely by graduates with 'bargain basement' degrees. Well Done Tony! Great news for the country.
Martin, Stockport

Surely charging fees up to 3,000 per year will 'decrease' access to higher education and not 'increase' it as your intro suggests.
Jeremy, London

Should the government stand firm on top up fees?
3348 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

Vote now closed


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