Cautious welcome for student plans

THE VICE-CHANCELLOR of Essex University, Ivor Crewe, has cautiously welcomed the Government's plans to charge students more for higher education.But Essex University Students' Union has denounced the plans as "devastating".

THE VICE-CHANCELLOR of Essex University, Ivor Crewe, has cautiously welcomed the Government's plans to charge students more for higher education.

But Essex University Students' Union has denounced the plans as "devastating".

The Government's plans to tackle the funding crisis in universities was outlined in a White Paper published last month. And include universities being able to charge £3,000 per year tuition fees and students from the poorest families being able to apply for grants of up to £1,000 per year.

Mr Crewe said in the last 20 years British universities have become £10 billion underfunded, staff-student ratios have doubled, the teaching infrastructure has crumbled and academic salaries have fallen so that vacancies in some disciplines remain unfilled.

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In the meantime neither the Government nor Opposition has been prepared to fund higher education through higher taxes.

"In this context the White Paper deserves two cheers. For the first time the Government acknowledges both the quality of our universities and the true extent of their financial crisis," said Mr Crewe.

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He said fears that large numbers of students from poorer backgrounds will be put off going to university by the prospect of getting into debt were exaggerated, as have the size of debts graduates will face.

He said there will be more scholarships and employer bursaries on offer and students could choose to live at home to cut costs.

"There is no ideal way of funding a mass higher education system. A free market system would be too discriminatory against low income families.

"But reliance on government funding alone would result in a serious deterioration of standards, or a major cut in student places and probably both.

"The Government's proposals are a least-bad compromise and preferable to the status quo," said Mr Crewe.

Essex University Students' Union president Darren Jones said the White Paper is "at best disappointing and at worst devastating".

He said student debt will rise to an average of £21,000, which he said will deter people from non-traditional backgrounds, including mature students, from going to university.

"One of the most disturbing aspects of the report is the potential for students to be asked to pay differential fees depending on the institution and the course. We believe that this will lead to a two-tier system of higher education where the rich will be able to shop around for their degree while the poor will just have to do whatever they can afford," said Mr Jones.

"The Students' Union will be doing everything it can to input into the consultation process on this White Paper," he added.

The Student's Union is taking students to a mass lobby of parliament on March 5, as part of national action and will continue to lobby MPs and Mr Crewe.

Other elements in the White Paper also include:

nFrom 2006 students will repay their fees through the tax system once they are graduated and earning £15,000.

nAn "access regulator" will ensure universities are doing all they to attract disadvantaged students before they can charge higher fees.

nUniversities will get more money to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

nResources for teaching will increase, with new teaching standards.

Education Secretary Charles Clarke indicated yesterday full £3,000-a-year tuition fees could be scrapped for the poorest university students and undergraduates could get different amounts of student loan depending on where in England they chose to study.

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