Socialist Worker

Clarke's top-up fees will mean a life of debt

Issue No. 1836

A WAVE of outrage has greeted the government's white paper outlining plans to make students pay more for university education. Universities will be allowed to charge students top-up fees in three years time. The fees will be limited to £3,000 a year, but only until the election after next.

Some universities have already declared they would like to hike the charges up to around £15,000 a year. This means ordinary people will be priced out of education. The government axed student grants in 1998, saddling students with huge debt. Now it says it will bring grants back, but only for those whose family income is less than £10,000 a year. The grants will be worth a pitiful £1,000 a year.

Fees will not have to be paid up front. But they will have to be repaid as loans, along with living expenses built up over years at college. The repayments start at 9 percent when graduates earn just £15,000. New Labour claims that graduates earn on average £400,000 more than non-graduates in their lifetime, so student debt is a small price to pay.

A new study by the London School of Economics has exposed these figures. Reports suggest they are taken from the 1960s, when only a tiny elite went to university.

Today some graduates, for instance those with arts degrees, actually earn 4 percent LESS than people who have A-levels. Top-up fees will deepen the class divisions that already exist in higher education.

The new regulator that is supposed to ensure working class kids get into universities will have no powers to enforce fair representation. Education secretary Charles Clarke says the government wants 50 percent of young people to experience higher education by 2006. But he doesn't want them doing popular courses at prestigious colleges or learning to develop all their abilities. He wants them doing new 'work-focused' two-year foundation degrees at further education colleges.

'One of the key features of these courses is that employers play a role in designing them,' according to Clarke's white paper. It is already a scandal that so few ordinary people get to go to university. Clarke has just shattered the hopes of thousands more.

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Sat 1 Feb 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1836
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