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Tuesday, 15 February, 2000, 17:36 GMT
Blunkett feels tuition fees pressure

students working in university library Students do not want to have to pay to attend university

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, has acknowledged pressure from top universities to raise higher education tuition fees.

High-ranking institutions in the UK want to charge students more so they can compete on the global stage.

Mr Blunkett vowed on Tuesday that while he held his office, fees would remain at a flat rate - currently 1,025 per year - giving poor students an equal chance of access to the best in the UK's higher education.

David Blunkett David Blunkett: "I will not be Secretary of State forever"

But he said that after the next General Election there would be a political "debate" on the issue - alongside a new "Dearing" review, re-visiting the whole question of university funding.

It was Lord Dearing's report on the future of higher education, published just after the last election, which opened the way to tuition fees.

In legislation drawing on his proposals, the government gave higher education funders power to take money away, pound for pound, from universities which charged higher fees.

Mr Blunkett said on Tuesday: "I've already made it clear that we won't pay top-up fees while I am Secretary of State."

But he added: "I will not be Secretary of State for ever."

His comments, made after he gave a speech at Greenwich University, London, on higher education in the 21st century, were seized on by university leaders, following reports claiming support in Downing Street for the idea of differential fees.

Professor Howard Newby, president of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, said: "We know that there is going to be no change in the regime until after the General Election.

"Afterwards, the question is how to bring more resources into higher education. Fees have to be part of the equation."

He said the challenge would be for universities which wanted to introduce higher fees to re-cycle the income to create bursaries for poorer students.

US system

Pressure for differential fees will grow later this month when the Russell Group of leading universities consider a paper by Sir Colin Campbell, Vice-chancellor of Nottingham University, on future options for university funding.

Many in top universities want a United States-style system, where institutions can charge whatever fees the market will bear.

Yale and Harvard charge high fees, but rich foundations in the US enable them to subsidise fees for poor students.

Mr Blunkett made clear on Tuesday that he does not believe the government should deliver the same subsidies in the UK.

He urged universities to find different ways to compete for research students or funding with the richest places in the United States.

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See also:
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