Higher Education

Update: March 2005

Since the entry below, the Government has increased the maximum grant that will be avaialbe to 2700.  An announcement was made in the Commons Standing Committee of the Higher Education Bill that the 1,500 higher education grant and the 1,200 fee remission would be combined to create an upfront grant of 2,700 for low income students. Universities opting to charge higher education fees would have to provide bursaries of at least 300 per year, so that students would be provided with enough money in the form of grants and bursaries to cover the cost of the higher fees (SC Deb (H) 24 February 2004 c 238).

The new system of grants comes into force in 2006. Full details of the student support arrangements from then are available at the Department for Education and Skills website here: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/studentsupport/students/200_2006_entry.shtml

Details of the student support arrangements for those starting courses in 2005 are available here:

http://www.dfes.gov.uk/studentsupport/students/200_2005_entry.shtml

20 January 2004

Tony Blair on Newsnight 19 January 2004

On Newsnight, Tony Blair attempted to sell the proposals in the Higher Education Bill to critics.  His comments that you only have to pay off loans according to your ability to pay and "for the first time if [graduates] want to use the maintenance grant to pay for fees they will be able to do so" need to be assessed in the light of the following information:

  • The Maintenance Grant in 97/98 was: 1755.  This figure uprated to 02/03 prices is: 1970 (House of Commons Library).  After previously abolishing the grant entirely, the Government is proposing to introduce a grant of: 1500.
  • In 1998, the Government reduced the income level at which student loans became repayable to 10,000, when it was previously set at 85% of average national earnings, more than 19,500 at today's prices. This compares to the Government's proposed repayment threshold of 15,000.

We also need to remember that when the current system was introduced we were told by the then Education Secretary, David Blunkett, that it would "ensure the investment needed for the future of our nation".  It didn't and neither will the current proposals, which raise very little money. I am sticking to my guns and will be voting against the Bill at Second Reading in the Commons on 27 January.  More information on the reasons for my opposition is given below.

Funding - No to top up fees

I am opposed to top up fees as a means of providing the resources that universities need after years of underfunding. The deterrent effect of increased Government-organised student debt on young people from low-income backgrounds aspiring to go to university will not be overcome by appointing an “access regulator” as proposed in the Government White Paper.  Research from Universities UK demonstrates that those young people from lower socioeconomic groups that do go to university are less likely to attend the more prestigious universities.  These are the very institutions that will charge higher fees, accelerating the trend towards the development of an underclass amongst universities.

It is welcome that the Government has belatedly accepted that the abolition of student grants was a mistake (and went against the Dearing recommendations) but the 1000 grant proposed for the poorest students is grossly inadequate and does not even achieve the level of grant available when the Tories left office.  A means-tested grant equivalent to the maximum student loan is necessary to overcome the attraction of paid employment to those from backgrounds with no tradition of higher education.  We cannot possibly be maximising the potential of all our young people if only 14% from the poorest groups go to university when the comparable figure for those from professional backgrounds is over 70%.

I am one of 156 Labour MPS who have signed Early Day Motion 2 opposed to top up fees and I have made my position clear to ministers at several meetings.   The Government is attempting to modify their original proposals in an effort to persuade these colleagues to support top-up fees.  The current proposals would, however, result in a diversion of the extra income raised from top-up fees into providing bursaries to the poorest students, thus defeating the original aim of providing sufficient additional income to universities.

An article I wrote for Tribune in 1997 still expresses my views.  Higher education could be financed by a 50% income tax band for those on higher incomes.  The Government says that there is a graduate premium over a lifetime of 400,000 which justifies the policy of requiring students to pay back a proportion of the cost of their education once they earn more than 15,000 but this is based on historical data that are not relevant for today’s graduates.  This is especially the case for women and those from ethnic minorities, whose earnings potential is not on average greater than that of white, male non-graduates.  A tax on high earnings would also ensure that past beneficiaries of higher education would also contribute and it would be a better way for richer parents to contribute to the education of their children.

Whilst the Tories are also criticising the Govt on HE, they don't provide an alternative way of maintaining and increasing investment in our universities and in students. Instead they would impose an immediate cut of the 430 million in universities' income that is derived from the curent level of tuition fees and they would chop a further 193 million by reducing support for disadvantaged students, whose fees are paid by the Government. This is equivalent to 6,500 lecturers. The Government's proposals on variable fees would provide the sector with additional income of 740 million. In simply opposing this proposal, without providing for alternative means of raising the cash, the Tories are merely perpetuating the policies of past Conservative governments - starving our universities of the funding they desperately need to remain world class.

Academic salaries

Click here for recommendations on academic salaries and PhD bursaries from reports produced by the Science and Technology Select Committee (of which I was a member from 1993 to 2001).

Government higher education policy

Information on the Government's higher education policy is available at the Department for Education and Skills website.

Article after the vote

for Campaign Group News 27.01.04:
No top up fees


Press release on OECD report

MP rejects OECD arguments


Early Day Motion no. 7

On 26.11.03, the day of the Queen's Speech, I joined over 130 Labour colleagues in signing the following EDM to make my views clear to the Government:

ALTERNATIVES TO VARIABLE TOP UP FEES 26.11.03

"That this House recognises the widespread concern about the effects variable tuition fees and the perception of debt may have on access to universities, particularly among students from families on modest or lower middle incomes; notes that there are alternative models of funding higher education, which the Department for Education and Skills has considered and which do not involve variable top-up fees; and calls on the Government, therefore, to publish full details of these alternatives to facilitate proper, informed debate and understanding before proceeding with legislation to reform the higher education funding system."

BMA top up fees concern

The BMA  press release "Rising medical student debt fuels concern about top-up fees" was issued on 26 November, when the Government announced its intention to legislate to bring in top up fees.

Leigh Bissett, chairman of the BMA's Medical Students Committee said:

"It is unfair that deciding to become a doctor means preparing for years of debt. Medical students are graduating with average debts of over 17,000, which is only slightly less than the basic annual salary for a first year junior doctor. The most worrying thing, however, is that fear of debt has the greatest impact on people from disadvantaged backgrounds.. The government says it wants to get more of these students into medical school, but if it is serious it needs to abandon tuition fees altogether."

Click here for the full BMA report on this issue.


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