Continued from Page One ... motivated, and to make better educational decisions, about whether or not to go to university, if they have to pay for it.” The Higher Education Bill would allow universities, from 2006, to charge variable tuition fees of up to £3000 a year, repayable when graduates earn more than £15,000.
But the Catholic Education Service says that promised safeguards — such as feecapping and bigger grants for poorer students — are not secure and will lead to “two-tier education”; a further stratification of the present system, where the most prestigious universities charge the highest fees.
Mrs Stannard said: “We readily acknowledge the need of these institutions, and others, to be adequately funded, but the potential of differential fees will deflect some students from applying to the costliest institutions irrespective of their personal academic ability.” The Government now faces the prospect of a major revolt with Labour MPs closing ranks with the Opposition to see off the Bill in its present form.
The Bill had its first reading in the commons on January 8. More than 100 Labour MPs are threatening to defy the party whips and vote against the bill when it returns to parliament on January 27.
The Prime Minister has pledged his premiership on getting the bill through parlia ment, insisting that it is a test of his personal authority. If defeated the vote could trigger a motion of no confidence in the Government.
Tony Blair insists there is no alternative option to tackling the funding crisis that now affects higher education in Britain.
A poll by The Guardian newspaper this week, confirmed that universities would charge the full £3000 top-up fees for all or most courses if the bill proceeds. University vice-chancellors said that further funding was required.
In October last year the Royal Society warned that topup fees could deter students from pursuing a career in science if the differential cost of running courses was reflected in the fees charged. “It could introduce a significant disincentive against studying science,” the Society said.
The Catholic Education Service said it did not reject outright the principle that graduates should contribute to the funding of higher education but said the Bill fails to produce a “fair and lasting means of achieving these goals”.
Peter Jennings, a spokesman for Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham, the chairman of the Department of Catholic Education and Formation of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said he had no further comment to add to the Catholic Education Service statement at the present time.