Plan for 'higher fees for some' may placate rebels

Proposals for private school students to pay higher fees for their university education could help to placate Labour opponents of the Government's plans for top-up fees, one of the party's rebels suggested yesterday.

In an interview with The Independent, Professor Tim Brighouse, a government adviser and London schools commissioner, said that students should be charged an extra 10 per cent in university tuition fees for every year they had spent at a private school.

Jon Owen Jones, the Labour MP for Cardiff Central and one of 160 MPs who have signed an early day motion opposing the plans for variable top-up fees of up to £3,000, suggested Professor Brighouse's idea could help overcome backbench opposition.

Mr Jones told BBC Radio 4's The World at One that the rebels would only be won over if sufficient money was raised from private school pupils to subsidise the poor.

He said: ""For most of the rebels, the sticking point is their belief that variable fees will dissuade poorer students from going to the best institutions. If we use the money from the privately educated pupils to fund the bursary system, then the bursary system would gain a lot of credibility and ... we would be able to give incentives for poorer students to go to the best institutions. Then we might have something which could pull off the Government's ambition of getting this Bill through."

Tim Yeo, the Conservatives' education spokesman, dismissed Professor Brighouse's proposal as "a ridiculous idea" that assumed all families with children at private school were wealthy and ignored the fact that the money would have to be repaid by the young people themselves.

"Many parents make a lot of financial sacrifices to send their children to the school of their choice," he said.

"We think that top-up fees are a financial hindrance on those who might not have the money to go to university. That is why we would not charge top-up fees or any tuition fees."

David Rendel, the Liberal Democrats' higher education spokesman, saidgraduates should not be penalised for their parents' choice of school.

"Modestly paid graduates, who may be nurses or teachers, should not be forced to pay extra top-up fees just because their parents were wealthy.

"The right way to pay for higher education is to charge those who become wealthy as a result of their degree."

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