Rebel MPs back a rise in student fees

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The Independent Online

Up to 100 Labour MPs are backing plans for a rise in the flat rate tuition fee of £1,125 a year paid by university students to try to defeat the Government's proposals for top-up fees.

Several ministers have also privately told Anne Campbell, the MP for Cambridge and leading campaigner for the alternative package, that they support the idea.

The MPs are likely to opt for a rise from the present £1,125 to about £2,000 a year - the figure said by higher education finance experts to be necessary to raise the same sum as the top-up fee.

Under the government plan, due to be confirmed in legislation to be published next month, universities could charge variable fees of up to £3,000 a year from 2006.

Supporters of the flat rate rise say it would avoid the introduction of a two-tier university system, under which children from poorer backgrounds could be put off applying to elite universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. They also argue it would enable Labour to stick by its manifesto pledge at the 2001 election, which ruled out the introduction of top-up fees in this parliament. They say they cannot convince their constituency parties to support top-up fees. One Labour source said: "There's no way they would support me backing top-up fees. However, this would be different."

Mrs Campbell and her supporters plan to introduce an amendment to legislation during its passage through the Commons, probably in December. She added: "I think now there are quite a lot of ministers who would support my option but they're not prepared to speak out in public."

Originally, about 75 MPs signed an early day motion supporting her plan but the number is said to have grown in recent weeks. One estimate put the number of supporters as high as 100.

The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have said they will oppose top-up fees.