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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 December 2005, 11:30 GMT
Three-quarters back tuition fees
A majority wanted universities to charge a flat level of fees
The principle of students having to pay towards their university tuition is accepted by more than three-quarters of people, says an annual survey.

Tuition fees have been a controversial part of the government's education policy - with a major backbench rebellion against plans to hike fees.

This year's survey of British Social Attitudes found that tuition fees are widely accepted - with 77% approval.

But the survey also found opposition to universities charging different fees.

Tuition fees, paid by students since 1998, have remained politically controversial - sparking a major battle within the Labour party over plans to increase fees to a maximum of 3,000 per year.

Poorer students

But this survey of social attitudes, conducted by the National Centre for Social Research, suggests that there is broad support for the principle of students paying university fees.

The survey, based each year on a sample of about 3,300 people, found that 77% believed that all or some students should pay fees.

There have been concerns that higher fees would deter poorer students - but the survey reports that there were no significant differences between social groups in their attitudes towards fees.

The plans for tuition fees allow universities to set their own charges for courses - up to the 3,000 limit. But the survey found strong opposition to such different levels of charging - with 65% wanting a standard level of charges.

In practice, almost all courses are set to be charged at the upper level of 3,000 per year - with variations more likely in the levels of bursaries on offer.

The survey also reported evidence of "selfishness" among middle-class families - saying that even though they were most likely to take advantage of higher education, they were less likely to support plans to widen access to university.

The Higher Education Minister, Bill Rammell, welcomed the survey's finding as an endorsement of the need for tuition fees.

"Tuition fees are necessary in order to maintain a world class higher education system. I am pleased that more than three quarters of those surveyed recognise this necessity. This shows the broad thrust of government higher education policy is in the right direction," said Mr Rammell.

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