'Just because I'm not rich, does not mean I'm entitled to less education'

13th December 2002 at 00:00
SIXTH-FORMERS say it makes no sense for a Government that wants to expand universities to charge them more to go.

They understand that universities need cash, but say it is unfair to lay the burden on them, either via top-up fees or a graduate tax.

For twins Rachel and Sarah Courtney, existing tuition fees of pound;1,100 a year will already be difficult for their family.

"There are two of us so if we were both to go the same year my mum, who's a part-time nurse, would have to pay pound;2,200," said Rachel, 17. "I wanted to do dentistry but that is a five-year course and I did not realise how much the fees would be."

Rachel and Sarah go to Ashington high in a former mining village in Northumberland.

Headteacher Ken Tonge already faces an uphill battle convincing bright students to go to university, and says the prospect of extra fees would be a "further frustration".

Sarah is worried about debt but says she will find the money somehow: "I really want to do a career - I would rather pay the money than be stuck in a job that I hated."

Hazel Ingham, 17, of Newport Free grammar school in Essex, wants to study French or politics but is the third of four children and says her parents cannot afford to pay higher fees.

"Just because I'm not as rich as someone else does not mean I'm entitled to less education," she said. Andrew Hunter, 16, of George Stephenson high school in Killingworth, North Tyneside, says charging higher fees would change his degree - he would study accountacy rather than history - and is only willing to pay pound;1,500 a year.

Classmate James Bailey, 17, would pay pound;2,000 to study history and a law conversion course: "Top-up fees could put some people off, but I know at the end of it it would be worth it - once you have a degree you can do whatever you want."

Neil Loughlan, 16, of Newport Free, who plans to study law, said middle-income families would be the hardest hit. "My teachers could go to university for free, so I don't think it's very fair that I cannot."

Jane Winter, 17, of Sunderland high school, wants to be a teacher. Her parents pay school fees of pound;1,900 a term. Jane thinks university fees should be no higher than pound;2,000.

"A graduate tax is a better idea than paying up front, but it would mean that you could still be paying it off by the time you are 30," she said.

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