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Senior Tories warn Britain's PM to leave university fees alone

By EARLE GALE | China Daily | Updated: 2019-01-07 10:14
Students walk at the University of Sheffield. CHINA DAILY

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Senior members of United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party are urging her not to cut university tuition fees, saying it would have a negative impact on social mobility, benefi t wealthier students, and put some institutions out of business.

High-flyers Justine Greening, David Willetts, and Jo Johnson have reportedly told her not to touch the 9,250 pounds ($11,770) each student currently pays annually in tuition fees.

May has indicated she wants to cut fees, likely to 6,500 pounds a year, in order to make university more accessible to poorer people. But her opponents say the move would backfi re, according to the Guardian newspaper.

Martina Milburn, who chairs the government's Social Mobility Commission, issued a similar warning last month when she told the Observer newspaper she was not convinced cutting university fees would help pupils from poorer backgrounds.

She said the fall in revenue would leave universities underfunded, while cheaper degrees would lead to more demand for courses and students from poorer backgrounds being"crowded out".

"Cutting fees will certainly help a certain sector," she said. "Whether it helps the right young people, I'm not convinced."

She instead called for poorer students to be given larger government grants.

The prime minister is waiting for a review into post-18 education being led by former equities broker Philip Augar to be completed this month before deciding what to do.

Greening, a former education secretary, said the last thing universities need is "cack-handed fees reform that means we go backward on social mobility and access". And Johnson, a former university minister, said poorer students would lose out because universities use their revenue to conduct outreach among poor students and provide bursaries and fee waivers, things that would be under threat if fees are slashed.

May's political rival, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, plans to abolish university fees completely if he gets into power. The Telegraph newspaper said the government wants to compete with Corbyn among young voters but might be ready to give up on slashing university fees in favor of of ering"major tax cuts" to grads paying of student loans.

The Russell Group, meanwhile, which comprises the UK's most selective universities, says the number of EU students enrolling in its institutions fell in 2018 for the fi rst time in fi ve years, because of Brexit uncertainty. And groups representing more than 150 UK higher education institutions have written to MPs warning them a no-deal Brexit is one of the"biggest threats" the sector has ever faced.

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