University Funding and Top-Up Fees

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2003 National Delegate Conference
29 May 2003

Conference notes that that the first demonstration organised in opposition to the policies of the New Labour Government was of students and other young people opposed to the introduction of tuition fees. Before the introduction of top up fees two-thirds of the population were against them as were the National Union of Students (NUS) and all the higher education unions and that in December 2002, 20,000 students marched through central London against top-up fees.

In January 2003 Charles Clark, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, announced that despite a manifesto pledge not to introduce top up fees in higher education, the Government proposes to do so in England with universities being allowed by the year 2006 to levy differential tuition fees up to £3,000 a year repayable after graduation once individual earnings reach £15,000 a year.

Conference believes that:

1)that plans for charging differential fees will lead to a creation of a two-tier education system, with an ivy league of universities with many students excluded from courses by their ability to pay;

2)these plans will greatly increase the pressure on places in higher education establishments who do not introduce tuition fees and in particular in Scotland where there are currently no plans to introduce such fees;

3)that although grants have been introduced for poorer students and upfront tuition fees abandoned, the plans for top up fees will saddle students with huge debts and penalise students from poorer households; even the Education Secretary has stated that students can expect to leave university with debts between £15,000 – £21,000;

4)these levels of debt will act as a massive deterrent to vast numbers of people hoping to go onto higher education; many of out members’, particularly low paid members’ children will be excluded from many universities and courses. This policy is in complete contradiction to the government policy of widening participation and achieving a target of 50 per cent of all school leavers by 2010;

5)whilst the reintroduction of a student grant is welcome, it has been set at far too low a level and is so heavily means-tested that its impact will be negligible. In fact the threshold for grants of £10,000 family income has been labelled a sick joke by the NUS, in fact according to Universities UK only seven per cent of families are likely to have earnings low enough to qualify for the full £1,000 a year maintenance grant;

6)according to accountancy experts students starting to repay their debts once they earned £15,000 a year at a rate of 9 per cent on any further income would lead to graduates paying a higher rate of tax (42 per cent) than millionaires (40 per cent) once they reached the threshold;

7)that plans to create a regulator body to prevent institutions charging differential fees unless they widen access is simply a stunt in a bid to prevent a backbench rebellion;

8)that instead of investing public money into a much underfunded higher education sector, the Government is shifting the burden onto students who will now be expected to foot the bill; the Government should be pouring public money into higher education instead of spending billions on a war with Iraq, or bailing out the nuclear power industry or Railtrack shareholders.

Conference resolves to:

a)demand that top up fees are not introduced;

b)encourage regions and branches to campaign alongside local student unions and other health education unions against top up fees;

c)publicise the case against top up fees to our members;

d)instruct the National Executive Council to campaign publicly and vigorously, along with the NUS and other unions, to scrap top up fees and to demand that the money to pay for higher education comes from the Treasury, not from the students;

e)publicly promote the argument that higher education should be funded through progressive income tax.

In implementing this decision to campaign, Conference instructs the National Executive Council to:

i)work with UNISON Labour Link to urge Labour Members of Parliament and Labour Members of the relevant Regional Parliaments/Assemblies to lobby against differential/tuition fees and for the introduction of a decent student grant system throughout the United Kingdom and seek to ensure that this issue is debated at Labour Party Conference and that UNISON policy is adopted by the Labour Party;

ii)encourage the General Political Fund Committee to consider taking out adverts in the national press in order to make this a high profile campaign in branches and amongst members;

iii)write to every vice-chancellor in England and Wales, reiterating our opposition to top up fees;

iv)produce campaign materials for branches and members to use for lobbying their Members of Parliament and members of the relevant Regional Parliaments/Assemblies taking cognisance of any regional differences;

v)continue to support the National Union of Students in their campaign to defeat differential/tuition fees, stop the introduction of top up fees and to win back a decent grant.