Headteachers warn of “two tier system” in higher education over tuition fees hike

HEADTEACHERS in Hampstead and Highgate have expressed concern at the government’s plans to allow universities to increase tuition fees to �9,000 per year.

The proposal, announced last week, comes amid major cuts in higher education funding and is due to be voted on in Parliament before Christmas.

Under the plans, universities will be able to raise tuition fees from the current level of �3,290 to �9,000 per year.

Although Universities Minister David Willetts said the highest charge would only be permitted in “exceptional circumstances,” headteachers have warned it could lead to a two-tier system.

Headteacher of Hampstead School, Jacques Szemalikowski, said the hike in fees could deter teenagers from poorer backgrounds applying to university.

“This is very concerning,” he said. “I believe it will lead to a two-tier system particularly in subjects where possible external sponsorship may not be prevalent.

“Those from poorer backgrounds will be deterred and it won’t help those who may be the first person ever in their family to consider university.”

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John Dowd, headteacher of Haverstock School in Chalk Farm, said: “In my view this will have a profound and devastating effect on the life chances of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“It will undoubtedly mean that fewer young people without access to finance will choose not to follow university courses and they will close doors to their long-term careers and life aspirations.

“Those who do may find themselves stuck in a vicious circle of deprivation beyond their degree, especially if the employment situation for graduates, which has become a significant problem, does not improve. Universities will not only end up promoting a two-tier system, but will inevitably also award more places to overseas students if they have the financial resources behind them. I see this as a cynical division that can only make the life chances of young people from deprived and disadvantaged backgrounds more difficult.”

Universities wanting to charge more than �6,000 will have to show they have put extra measures in place to attract students from poorer backgrounds – such as running summer programmes and by offering bursaries.

The government will continue to lend students money for their fees – which they will have to pay back once they start earning �21,000.

However, not all educational leaders are opposed to the idea. Barbara Elliott, headmistress of independent Channing School in Highgate, said the changes were an “inevitable consequence of the economic climate.”

Mrs Elliott said: “Graduates will have many years to pay back loans, and research shows they will earn more than non-graduates over their working lives. It’s a bit like an ‘intellectual mortgage’. We’d all like the best house we can afford, but one has to be realistic about paying for it.”