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Sunday, 17 November, 2002, 14:30 GMT
Middle class 'face higher college fees'
students
Students have a responsibility, says Mrs Hodge
Middle-class students will be charged more to attend top universities under plans being considered by the government.

Higher education minister Margaret Hodge confirmed the government was considering the introduction of top-up fees or a "graduate tax" to boost university funding.

But she said "talented" youngsters from working class backgrounds would be insulated from the charges.

Around 60 Labour MPs have signed a Commons motion opposing the introduction of top-up fees.


Don't lets pretend that a degree in theology from Luton is the same as a degree in accountancy from Oxford

Margaret Hodge, higher education minister
They claim it will lead to a "two-tier" system, with students from poorer backgrounds being denied access to the best education.

No 'free lunch'

Mrs Hodge - who last week warned there would be no 'free lunch' for students - said she was determined not to let that happen.

She said it was "naive" to pretend all universities were the same.

"Universities are different. Don't lets pretend that a degree in theology from Luton is the same as a degree in accountancy from Oxford," she told BBC One's On The Record.

But - at the same time - the government was determined to increase the number of students from less well-off backgrounds who went on to higher education.

"I am absolutely committed to ensuring that access to universities, particularly our top universities, is based on talent," she added.

'Right balance'

She said extra funding was needed to "maintain the excellence" of the UK's higher education system.


Many young people do not think twice about taking out a loan or credit to buy a car or a holiday

Charles Clarke, education secretary
But she wanted to "get the balance right" between funding from general taxation, the business community and individual students and their families.

Labour's 2001 manifesto promised top-up fees would not be introduced in the current Parliament, but Mrs Hodge said the government was looking at funding over the next 10 years.

She said the solution would be unveiled in January, in a long-awaited review of student and university finance.

'Start for life'

Writing in the Independent on Sunday, education secretary Charles Clarke dismissed concerns about "middle-class backlash" over the issue of top-up fees.

Charles Clarke
Charles Clarke: not afraid of a 'backlash'
He said "fear of debt was a real issue" in higher education, which was why repayment had to be "related to ability to pay".

But he said: "Many young people do not think twice about taking out a loan or credit to buy a car or a holiday."

These were "depreciating assets", he added, "unlike education which gives you a start that lasts for life".

'Waste of talent'

He said 75% of the intake to universities still came from middle-class backgrounds.

"We cannot afford the waste of talent this implies," Mr Clarke added.

The education secretary said he wanted to encourage more diversity in higher education.

Some universities would be encouraged to become world class research centres, while others would develop links with local businesses, he said.

He was also keen to solicit more funds from past students, praising the alumni system which helps fund many US universities.


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Analysis: Mike Baker

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See also:

17 Nov 02 | Politics
14 Nov 02 | Education
14 Nov 02 | Education
09 Nov 02 | Mike Baker
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