Fees free-for-all

Protagonists for top-up fees will lock heads with representatives of lecturers and students at the University of Nottingham today.

Vice-chancellor Sir Colin Campbell and pro vice-chancellor David Greenaway, who has drafted proposals on top-up fees for the Russell Group of leading research universities, will clash with representatives of the Association of University Teachers and the National Union of Students.

Nick Palmer, Labour MP for the Nottingham constituency of Broxtowe, will also take part in the AUT regional policy seminar on "Universities in the 21st Century: the Challenge of Globalisation".

Owain James, president-elect of the NUS, claimed that not all members of the Russell Group supported top-up fees. The Greenaway paper had originated as a report before being watered down to an options paper and its publication delayed, he added.

"It is only a handful of vice-chancellors in the Russell Group who have commissioned their own economists to support them who advocate top-up fees," Mr James added.

Top-up fees would lead to ghettoisation, according to Mr James. He said:

"Such an approach would mean that the children of the social elite would have access to top-class higher education while non-traditional students and students from low-income backgrounds would be thrown together in poorly funded run-down colleges."

Dr Palmer lent his weight to the argument against differential fees. "The argument is that poor students will have bursaries. Under the plans, the rich would be fine and the poor would be fine - it is the people who are in the middle who would be deterred.

"The top-up fees proposal is the opening bid in what will be a protracted national debate. We have to be careful about what kind of university system we want and how we pay for it. I accept the principle of charging some tuition fee but not differential, escalating fees that would introduce a multi-level system and institutionalise it."

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