Letter: Student tuition fees: why the LSE has little choice

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The Independent Online
REBECCAH Rothwell-Jackson (Letters, 13 June) is mistaken. The London School of Economics is not 'a comparatively rich institution . . .' Until 1989 we did not even own our main building and then were forced by the Government to purchase it from the London Residuary Body. By contrast the polytechnics were given the property they occupied when local government control over them was taken away by the Education Reform Act of 1988. Astute property management has meant that many of the former polytechnics now have better financial prospects than has the LSE.

I agree with Peter Scott ('Pay up to revive our universities', 13 June) when he says that '. . . decisions about the kind of higher education system the country wants and is willing to pay for should be made by elected politicians not by unelected vice-chancellors'. This is why, as Lorna Fitzsimons (Letters 13 June) points out, I agreed in 1990 that '. . . a change in funding was the responsibility of the Government and not individual institutions'. But what would your correspondents have us do when the Government refuses to heed the warnings that vice-chancellors have been giving for years?

The nature of the implicit deal struck with British higher education in the late 1980s is becoming clear - the polytechnics were to be allowed to call themselves 'universities' in exchange for many of the existing universities being funded as if they were polytechnics. I am a great admirer of the former polytechnics but I do not believe the country needs another one created from the LSE. What the country needs is as many internationally renowned, research-led institutions as it can afford. Oxford and Cambridge are not enough. Those two universities have 'top up' fees paid to colleges directly by the Government. LSE is in what Peter Scott describes as 'the international super-league' and I and my senior colleagues wish to keep it there. However, if the Government does not recognise its responsibilities to us then it is our duty to draw this to the attention of our academic colleagues. This we have done and they must now decide whether to advise our Court of Governors to charge 'top-up' fees. The debate is not, for us, about the nature of funding for British universities. It is about the nature of the LSE.

J M Ashworth

Director, The London School of Economics and Political Science

London WC2