Page last updated at 19:32 GMT, Monday, 16 March 2009

Did they change their minds?

Blair confronted over fees
Tony Blair confronted over fees by Andrew Chaplin in Glamorgan
Two students who staged protests over fees - one confronting Tony Blair, one occupying the Department for Education - now look back on their radical past. Have they changed their minds?

Andrew Chaplin's moment in the media spotlight came eight years ago during the general election campaign of 2001.

Tony Blair, on the campaign trail in Wales, was visiting the University of Glamorgan.

The big issue for students was tuition fees, which at the time cost 1,000 per year.

Andrew Chaplin decided he wanted to let the prime minister know his views on the matter, in one of those sudden confrontations that captured the public attention.

"It was a spur of the moment decision. I didn't know Tony Blair was coming," he says.

When he did realise, it seemed to the 23-year-old media student that the visit was going to take place with the prime minister only meeting a few hand-picked people.

"I didn't think this would represent the views of students," he said.


And seeing the prime minister, he ran up to him and told him in forthright terms that he was wrong to impose fees and that they would limit the chances of poorer young people.

"The people around seemed more shocked than Tony Blair. He was very gracious about it."

Looking back, tuition fees are still there - three times higher - and Tony Blair went on to win two more general elections.

But Mr Chaplin, who is currently planning to re-train as a teacher, says he still thinks he was right to oppose fees. And he believes it is another example of governments refusing to listen to the public.

"If the fees go up more, students will still want to go to university, to better themselves. But it is going to cause a lot more resentment."


In February 2000, Sarah Davidson-Steinhardt was a spokeswoman for a group of protesting students from Goldsmiths College, London, who had occupied the Department for Education's headquarters in London.

"The students are here because they are angry. We want to obstruct this building for as long as possible. We want to challenge these policies at the place where they are made," she told reporters.

Now training to be a barrister, Sarah Davidson-Steinhardt says she still believes the protest was in a good cause and she has not changed her views on tuition fees.

"An awful lot of people have been put off by the fees," she says. "I absolutely stand by the protests."

She says the government sees tuition fees as a success because there has been an increase in the overall numbers of students - but she argues that poorer students are still being deterred.

And she says the warnings that the first fees of 1,000 per year were only the thin end of the wedge have been proved correct, with the fees being raised much higher.

She says that "people have come to accept it" that fees are part of student life.

But looking back, she says that events have disproved the case that the government did not have enough money to fund universities without introducing fees.

"They have continued to find money when they needed it - for wars or for bailing out the banks."

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