Page last updated at 18:54 GMT, Monday, 16 March 2009

Tuition fees timeline

1997

Sir Ron Dearing - later Lord Dearing, who died in 2009 - produces a landmark report into the future of higher education which concludes that students will have to pay towards the cost of university.

"We therefore recommend that students enter into an obligation to make contributions to the cost of their education once they are in work."

The Labour government, elected in May 1997, accepts the recommendation that there should be a tuition fee of 1,000, with the promise that it would provide financial support to "ensure free higher education for the least well off".

Students hold demonstrations in 14 cities, protesting that fees will deter young people from low-income families from going to university.

1998

The plans to introduce tuition fees are described as sparking the biggest backbench rebellion facing Labour's first-term government.

"In my own constituency I've had people stopping me in the street, and phone call after phone call from people shocked that a Labour government should be doing this," says a rebel Labour MP.

The Teaching and Higher Education Act is passed into law - setting an annual tuition fee for England of 1,000, with the expectation that means testing would mean a third of students would not pay anything.

Students beginning university in the autumn term are the first to face tuition fees, which have to be paid "up front".

A group of Oxford University students refuses to pay fees and threatens "legitimate civil disobedience". There are protests at 150 universities.

1999

Stop the Fees campaigners demonstrate against the tuition fees, which are dubbed a "student poll tax". There are occupations at Oxford and Sussex and at Goldsmiths and University College London.

Students at Oxford University are threatened with suspension for non-payment of fees.

2000

Protesting students from Goldsmiths College, London occupy the Department for Education and Employment.

University vice-chancellors launch review process to consider options for fees and funding.

2001

David Blunkett says there will be no top-up fees.

"I've made my position clear over the past two years that I am against top-up fees. But I can now make the government's position clear. There will be no levying of top-up fees in the next parliament if we win the next election."

2002

More than 80 Labour backbenchers support calls to scrap tuition fees.

"There is no such thing as a free lunch," the higher education minister tells students, as speculation grows about plans to increase fees.

2003

Education Secretary Charles Clarke, a former NUS president, announces plans for variable top-up fees, repayable after graduation, replacing the up-front tuition fee for students in England.

He unveils the Office for Fair Access (Offa), intended to widen access to university, and attacks the "Brideshead" image of Oxford and Cambridge.

A demonstration against fees is staged by 30,000 students in Trafalgar Square in London.

The upper limit that students will have to pay per year is set at 3,000, to be re-paid once graduates earn above 15,000, with a means-tested package of support.

2004

Tony Blair faces his biggest backbench rebellion as prime minister in a vote on top-up fees, with 72 Labour MPs voting against. He scraped home by five votes.

The decision to implement the 3,000 fees is welcomed by university leaders and angers student unions.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats say they would scrap tuition fees.

2005

Almost all universities set fees at the maximum level of 3,000 per year, about eight out of 10 offer bursaries to students from low-income families.

Labour defends the "necessity" of tuition fees in the general election campaign.

Universities warn that the fees system is too confusing for students.

2006

Students starting university in the autumn become the first to be charged the higher 3,000 fees.

Conservative leader, David Cameron, says tuition fees are unavoidable. "The money's got to come from somewhere."

One in five students is now living at home, says a survey, which it attributes to the increased cost of university.

An increase of only one percentage point in students from poorer areas going to university since fees introduced.

Universities say they still need 1.3bn in extra funding.

2007

Applications to university increase, despite introduction of 3,000 fee.

2008

National Union of Students drops its opposition to tuition fees.

2009

House of Commons spending watchdog says little to show for 392m spent on attracting poorer students into university.



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