Poll to tax the brain

You report the results of a MORI poll and a readership poll (THES, January 6) that include the statement "students from well-off families should contribute to tuition costs".

The majority of a sample of members of the general public either "strongly agreed" or "tended to agree" with this sentiment.

However, the statement as presented obscures several important factors relevant to both the debate on payment of tuition fees, in whole or in part, by students and to the wider debate on the nature of maintenance awards.

The assessment of maintenance grants assumes a parental contribution when parental income exceeds a specified level.

This leads to the contradictory position of legally independent adults being made financially dependent on parental contribution in order to attend university or other higher education institutions.

Their right of access to higher education depends on the ability or willingness of parents to make the designated contribution.

It does not follow that because a family is "well off" it will necessarily make that contribution and students from any level of family financial status may be denied access because they have been made vulnerable to someone else's financial circumstances or priorities.

The widening of access to university has led to the participation of significantly larger numbers of mature students.

When the question states ". . . from well-off families . . ." it is unclear whether the prospective student is a traditional school-leaver and hence likely to be financially dependent on parents or, as a mature student, is "well off" in their own right or has a partner who is "well off".

Respondents might have wished to make differential responses if these different sets of circumstances had been presented to them.

Student funding, whether for tuition or for maintenance, should be based on the principles of equity for all students without preference or penalty based on family financial status, on the treatment of students as independent individuals and not as subsets of someone else's financial arrangements and on a policy of access to higher education for all who can benefit.

Steve Bradley Chair Swansea Association of University Teachers University of Wales, Swansea

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