Leading article: More reason for raising tuition fees

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The Independent Online

Hardly a week goes by nowadays without someone making out a case for the £3,245-a-year ceiling on student fees to be lifted. The most compelling case comes today from Professor John Holman, director of the National Science Learning Centre, who argues the extra funding derived from an increase in fees will be essential if UK universities are to retain their world-class reputation for providing top quality degree courses in the so-called STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) deemed vital to securing the future economic wealth of the country.

Universities such as Cambridge and Imperial College London will, he believes, survive the slings and arrows of misfortune awaiting universities as the Government of the day struggles to cope with pressures to reduce public spending. Other universities, however, may struggle to retain courses – thus threatening the supply of future scientists which, in turn, could have an impact on the numbers opting to take science options at GCSE and A-level if top quality teaching is not available. An increase in the ceiling, on Professor Holman's argument, will do the trick rather than having a free-for-all with universities being allowed to charge what they like.

It seems inconceivable in the wake of all the evidence that the Government review of fees, originally due to be launched later this year but delayed by party infighting, will not come up with a recommendation to increase the ceiling. Of course, care needs to be taken that help is available for those from disadvantaged backgrounds but the case for an increase seems to gather more impetus with time. The only party committed to abolishing fees, the Liberal Democrats, has even had to concede its stance is not feasible in the current economic climate.

One trouble lies ahead, though. The result of the fees inquiry will not be known until after the general election, which gives our political masters a convenient get-out clause to avoid saying what they will do if in power next year. That is a pity. The public deserves to know the stance of each political party on such an important issue before it casts its vote on election day.

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