Looking back over the past two decades, the history of student fees is starting to look like a relay race in which Conservatives, Labour and the Liberals have been passing the baton, breaking election promises and raising the cost each time – with university bosses cheering on from the sidelines.
First it was the Conservatives, with education secretary Gillian Shephard commissioning Nottingham University chancellor Ron Dearing in 1996 to look into the funding of higher education.
In 1998 Labour implemented the report, bringing in a means-tested fee of £1,000. Six years later, it tripled the fee.
The headlines recently have been dominated by crocodile tears shed by the architects of big student loans (see main article), starting with Andrew Adonis, the man who modestly claimed in an article in The Times that he was “the moving force behind Tony Blair’s decision in 2004 to introduce what were then called top-up fees”.
An education “specialist” who has never worked in education, a (now former) Labour minister who was never elected, Adonis hiked fees from £1,000 a year to £3,000 – despite his party’s manifesto saying in 2001 that it would not “introduce top-up fees and has legislated against them”.
Then it was Labour’s turn to set up an “independent” review, commissioned by Peter Mandelson and led by former BP head John Browne aided by among others the vice-chancellors of Birmingham and Aston universities.
That review was then implemented by the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition, and it raised the maximum fee to £9,000 a year.
That went up this year to £9,250.
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