Tuition fees: the painful lessons that lie ahead

Letters this week include a warning that the Government's restructuring of university revenues will discourage poor students, a query about self- regulation and a defence of open investigations into alleged malpractice in government tests for 11 year-olds

Figures of Speech

The Prime Minister's mantra "Education, Education, Education" deserves a "Ha, Ha, Ha!" response as far as higher education is concerned.

The imposition of a pounds 1,000 tuition fee would not generate an increase in net revenue until well into the next century: the abolition of student maintenance grants would be more than matched by the higher state loans for maintenance and tuition, and by administrative costs, until the loan repayments feed through. Even when the net revenue becomes positive the government proposes to use much of this to finance other items of government expenditure. Thus revenues raised from university tuition fees would be used to fund non-university areas of public expenditure, and would not be ring-fenced to bridge the pounds 2bn university funding gap identified in the Dearing Report.

The government says that it wants to improve the access to higher education of people from poor backgrounds. Here students with a family income of less than pounds 23,000 pa would not have to pay the tuition fee, but would suffer from the abolition of the state maintenance grant. This would leave students from poor families graduating with pounds 5,265 more state debt (pounds 6,480 in London) than at present. The Dearing Report recommended retention of the present maintenance grant arrangements in order not to discourage students from poor backgrounds.

The present government is obviously not responsible for the university funding gap that has developed over the last 20 or so years. It, however, can and will be held responsible if it ignores the main funding and access recommendations of the Dearing Committee, which was sat up with all-party agreement.

Professor R B Cross

Department of Economics,

University of Strathclyde.


Unwanted Intrusion

In his comments (Your Views, Education +, 9 Oct) on QAA, Dr Peter Milton makes an interesting observation, to the effect that "governments... are not prepared to countenance self-regulation [by the universities]". I wonder why, therefore, they are prepared to countenance this for the medical profession, the police, the press and many large financial institutions? Can it be that the work of universities is so much more important than that of these other, self-regulating bodies? Or just that we lack their power to resist external monitoring?

Dr R. M. Morris, Faculty of Technology, Open University, Milton Keynes, Bucks.

Shameless Methods

Tony Mooney's article ("Personally Speaking: Judge for yourself who should be named and shamed," Education+, October 9) about primary school and last year's national tests for 11 year-olds questions the need to have thorough procedures for investigating any reported cases of malpractice. The school in question was reported to us separately by both the English and mathematics markers as having pupil scripts that were suspiciously similar to one another and where the pattern of performances was extremely unusual.

We immediately wrote to the school , asking them to explain the uncommonly similar answers. Their reply satisfied us on some counts but not on others, and we therefore had to ask further questions until we could be sure that no malpractice had occurred.

This case was unusual in that it involved three separate areas of concern raised by the two markers, and each needed to be investigated. However, as the national agency charged with ensuring the integrity of the tests we must investigate thoroughly. Had we not done so, the finger of suspicion would now still be pointing at the school.

Surely this is the precise opposite of "naming and shaming"?

David Hawker, Head of Curriculum and Assessment, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, London.

Please send your letters to Wendy Berliner, Editor, EDUCATION+, `The Independent',1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL. Include a day time telephone number. Fax letters to Education + on 0171 293 2451;