Cap on university fees 'threatens UK science'

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The cap on student fees must be lifted if universities are to continue to provide the high-quality scientists the UK needs, a leading government adviser warns today.

John Holman, director of the government-funded National Science Learning Centre, said it was "difficult" to see how quality could be maintained without a financial boost.

"It's very difficult to see how a future of excellence throughout the university system can be maintained unless at some point there's a more economic approach to university fees," he said. "At some point we need to question whether the cap on fees [of £3,245 a year] should be lifted."

Professor Holman, who is also National Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) director for the Department of Children, Schools and Families, said he feared universities "further down in the popularity stakes would be under a lot of pressure to maintain courses". But he stressed he did not want a "free for all" with no ceiling on fees. His comments were echoed by Iain Conn, group managing director of BP, who warned "there is a real risk" the recession would "damage the world-rated universities we've got" through squeezing their finances.

Labour and the Tories have talked about ring-fencing spending on schools but have not given a similar pledge for universities. A government review of fees is due later this year which will report back after the next general election.

Mr Conn said funding for the country's world-class universities should be protected so they can continue to enrol the most talented international students. Mr Conn and Mr Holman were speaking at the launch of a report into improving science teaching.