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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 10:23 GMT 11:23 UK
Call for elite universities
Scientist
British science needs support, says adviser
The UK should have a group of elite, US-style universities where students are charged higher fees, says one of the government's chief advisers on science.

Sir Richard Sykes, the former chairman of the drugs company GlaxoSmithKline, says the UK will never become a world leader in science unless "something radical" is done with its universities.

In an interview with the Financial Times, he said: "The top US universities cream off the best students and researchers from the world's educational systems by offering them the best conditions in the world.

"We have to compete with one hand tied behind our back."

Sir Richard Sykes
Sir Richard Sykes: Time for radical change
At the moment, universities are not allowed to charge top-up fees, although many have been looking at the idea.

The National Union of Students (NUS) reacted angrily to Sir Richard's call for top-up fees.

The union's national president, Owain James said: "Any suggestion that a cash injection should come from differential or top-up fees instead of state funding is nonsense - and impossible.

"Asking cash-strapped students to pay out even more in tuition fees is an insult to the struggle they are already going through.

"Top-up fees would lead to a ghettoisation of higher education where the fortunate rich are free to choose their course and institution based on aptitude and the poorest students are forced onto the cheapest courses."

Sir Richard Sykes, who is the rector of Imperial College in London, was last week appointed to the strategy board of the Department for Trade and Industry.

His comments come just days after Tony Blair warned that the UK risked being overtaken by developing countries in science.

Funding gap

The debate over whether universities should charge students top-up fees, on top of the current tuition fees continues in higher education.

Several leading universities have been examining the possibility, saying they have to come up with new ways of bridging their funding gap.

They say they will not be able to cope with the expansion in student numbers which the government wants without more money.

When David Blunkett was the education secretary, he pledged that this parliament would not relax rules to allow top-up fees.

The government is reviewing the way students are funded at university and an announcement on a new system of student support is overdue.

See also:

22 May 02 | UK Education
23 May 02 | UK Politics
23 Feb 01 | UK Education
08 Feb 01 | UK Education
02 Feb 01 | UK Education
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