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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 04:16 GMT
Blair to defend university fee rise
Leeds University students
Students are unhappy with the new proposals
The prime minister is to mount a vigorous defence of the government's plan to allow English universities to charge up to 3,000 a year for some courses.

In a speech on Thursday to Labour Party supporters in London, Mr Blair will defend the proposals, allowing increased top-up fees from 2006.

He will argue the reforms are part of a "road to social justice", saying the reform process needs to go "further and faster" across the whole of the public sector.

Tony Blair
Blair is set to back the higher education white paper

His comments are unlikely to convince critics within a party already divided over the prospects of war with Iraq.

One of party's biggest backbench rebellions is expected when the higher education proposals reach the Commons.

Under the government's plans, universities will be able to charge different fees up to 3,000.

Students will not have to pay until they graduate, and begin to earn at least 15,000.

The plans are part of a wide-ranging and long-awaited shake-up of higher education in England.

However, students and academics warn the plans could lead to a "two-tier" system and could saddle students with increased debt.

They fear the re-introduction of maintenance grants for the poorest students, and the creation of an "access regulator" will not be enough.

Higher Education Review
Higher limit for tuition fees, up to 3,000
Universities set own fees
Scrapping of up-front fees
Re-payment after graduation
'Access regulator' to ensure wider intake
Return of maintenance grants
Average debts over the course of a three year degree could reach 15,000.

The Tories education secretary, Damian Green, said rows within the Cabinet had led to "messy, botched" proposals which would satisfy no one.

The Liberal Democrats' education spokesman Phil Willis has also expressed his fear the changes will "split" students according to their ability to pay.

The increase in fees is intended to tackle the budget shortfalls facing many universities and help pay for the expansion the government wants.

But 180 Labour and opposition backbenchers have already signed a Commons motion against top-up fees.

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  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Norman Smith
"Mr Clarke is going to need all the charm he can muster"

Talking PointFORUM
 University fees
What do the changes mean? Ask an expert
 VOTE RESULTS
Do you back new plans for university funding?

Yes
 19.44% 

No
 80.56% 

4794 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

22 Jan 03 | HE overview
22 Jan 03 | HE reaction
22 Jan 03 | HE reaction
22 Jan 03 | HE case studies
Internet links:


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