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Letter: Funding undergrads and under-fives

Sir: Your leading article 'Out of the sandpit, into the school' (15 March) about the dropping by the Prime Minister of his pledge on universal nursery education correctly made the connection between pre-school provision and higher education (by suggesting that cash could be shifted from higher education to fund universal nursery provision).

Both of these education sectors may well be non-compulsory, but the annual cost to the public purse of a place in the former is about pounds 1,400 and in the latter anywhere between pounds 6,000 and pounds 11,000, depending on the course and whether it is taken at Oxbridge or not. Yet it is higher education funding which is a shambles for all involved, be they students or staff, full-time or part-time.

In more than 30 visits to institutions involved in higher education in the past 18 months, I have been told that the top priority on extra public resources for education is pre-school provision. But acceptance for this view can be won only by showing a willingness to discuss the financial consequences of mass higher education in the Nineties.

Soon the penny will drop among all policy-makers. As your leading article showed, you cannot divorce the crying need, in the national interest, for positive action on the pre-school front from attention to the crisis in access, quality and funding in higher education.



MP for Birmingham Perry Barr (Lab)

House of Commons

London, SW1

16 March