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Friday, 7 July, 2000, 19:14 GMT 20:14 UK
Students say top-up fees cut access
Students are preparing to campaign against top-up fees
Student unions argue that there is international evidence proving that top-up fees make universities more socially exclusive.

A report commissioned by the Russell Group of leading universities has proposed a system in which universities would be free to set their own charges for courses - which would lead to fees much higher than at present.

The report's authors say that this would not limit access to university.

But the National Union of Students has published statistics from Australia and the United States which it says proves that the top-up fee system deters applications from the least well-off youngsters.

Top-up fees are elitist and discriminate at all levels

Owain James, NUS president
The NUS says that in Australia, where top-up fees were introduced in 1996, applications from those in poorer families and isolated rural backgrounds have slumped by between 3% and 45%.

And in the United States, a rise in tuition fees in the past five years has been claimed as a reason for a 22% fall in the proportion of black students applying.

"These figures confirm what the NUS has been saying for a long time - that top-up fees are elitist and discriminate at all levels... Any academic who advocates lifting the lid on fees while talking of access is at best being hypocritical," said the union's president, Owain James.

Under the report's proposals, the higher fees faced by students would be offset by scholarships and improved loans which would be intended to ensure that young people from deprived backgrounds would not be excluded.

But student leaders have been vociferous in their rejection of any move towards top-up or "flexible" fees.

Owain James
Owain James says top fees will discriminate and be elitist
At Oxford University, the students' union president, Kirsty McNeill, told BBC News Online the introduction of top-up fees would drag the university back to its Brideshead image of social exclusivity.

"The Brideshead image will be massively, massively increased if it's felt that you have to be able to provide 4,500 out of your own pocket to study at some of the best universities in the world," she said.

Students from Nottingham University, where the report was published, have expressed their own opposition to top-up fees and reject the suggestion that universities in the United Kingdom should follow the United States model.

Top-up fees would "institutionalise" barriers to less well off applicants, the students union claimed.

And a fact-finding mission to the US had revealed the extent to which higher education was "money driven".

The Nottingham students had found that while Harvard and Yale could offer a range of scholarships and grants, there were many less prestigious universities which offered little to students without funds.

Kirsty McNeill
"Top-up fees would bring back the Brideshead image to Oxford"
See also:

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