Letter: Social justice in higher education

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Sir: While there is much room for debate about the social security proposals of Labour's Commission on Social Justice, the commission's underlying principles are ones that modesty forbids Liberal Democrats to praise too highly.

Its proposals on higher education are another matter. The commission is proposing that students should repay all their maintenance grant and part of their tuition fees. Sadly, it may be right that the present level of proposed expansion demands such a proposal, but does it follow that it is the expansion which is sacrosanct?

The more serious objection is the illusion, which Labour shares with the Government, that higher education can long remain viable at the present level of costs per student. Potential students, who are being asked to incur five-figure debts, will exercise the right of the consumer to look and see whether what they are getting is worth the money.

They will find a declining availability of teaching, libraries, laboratories and other things that make universities an educational experience. In addition, since nothing is said of restoring student rights to social security, they will be asked to live at levels of poverty that people on benefit are not asked to accept.

As a result, many will take jobs during term and will learn more about the comparative merits of Burger King and Harvey Nichols as employers than about their chosen subjects. They may say that the experience is available without incurring a five-figure debt.

Those who go to university on these terms will not be getting higher education. I do not follow the logic of an argument which says that because more people should get higher education, therefore nobody should get it.

Yours sincerely, RUSSELL House of Lords London, SW1

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