Students warn MPs of tuition fees 'backlash'

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education correspondent

Image caption, Students protested against Chris Huhne's visit to the London School of Economics

Students have threatened MPs with a "huge backlash" over raising tuition fees in England.

Increasing fees and removing teaching grants represented the "effective privatisation of higher education," said NUS president, Aaron Porter.

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne faced a student protest when he spoke at the London School of Economics on Tuesday.

The government is set to announce fees levels - with reports that it could be up to £9,000 per year.

Mr Huhne was the latest coalition minister to receive a protest over tuition fees, with LSE students demanding that he should "honour his pledge" to vote against raising tuition fees.

Last week, a student protest prompted Vince Cable to cancel a visit to Oxford University.

Two-tier fees

LSE student union representative, Ashok Kumar, says students were "stunned that Chris Huhne has the gall to show his face on a university campus after shamelessly reneging on the promise to abolish fees".

Mr Huhne, the energy secretary, was visiting the university to talk about the green economy.

The National Union of Students says such protests mark the beginning of a sustained political battle over tuition fees.

"Since the Browne review was published and senior Liberal Democrats started making clear their intention to u-turn on their pledge to vote against higher fees we have seen thousands of students around the country coming together to organise protests and let MPs know that if they seek to pass the bill for cuts onto students' shoulders then they will face a huge backlash," said Mr Porter.

On Wednesday the government is expected to publish its response to Lord Browne's report on university funding - which will set out the maximum level of tuition fees.

There has been speculation that there will be two levels of fees - a basic rate of £6,000 per year and a higher tier of £9,000, which would require universities to make commitments over access to poorer students.

Another fees model believed to have been examined by ministers has been a raising of the cap to £7,000 - but there were concerns that this would not be high enough to satisfy some top universities.

Balancing act

But there have also been worries from some university leaders about the conditions that could be attached to a higher level of £9,000 - and opposition to an imposition of quotas or "social engineering" in admitting more disadvantaged students.

Coalition ministers will be trying to achieve a balancing act between satisfying potential Lib Dem rebels that this package is progressive enough - while delivering a sustainable level of funding for universities.

As well as the headline figure of tuition fees, there will be negotiations over the earnings thresholds for loan repayments, interest rates for repayment, support packages for poorer students and penalties for early repayment.

Adding to the financial pressures, the spending review announced the withdrawal of much of the teaching grant for many university courses, which means that universities could need to charge £6,000 or more to simply to replace the cuts in public funding.

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