FORMER Social Democrat leader Lord Owen this week called on the Government to reverse decades of underfunding in higher education by allowing universities to charge students thousands of pounds in tuition fees.
In proposals he said would require a "leap of public perception", Lord Owen suggested a withdrawal of all direct funding of university teaching. Universities would then be free to charge as much as they chose - far more than the current pound;1,050-a-year - with public support channelled into a pound;3 billion bursary fund to support poorer undergraduates.
Students could either pay the money upfront or apply for loans. All graduates would also be suject to a graduate tax, payable when they started earning pound;25,000 and likely to cost them up to pound;20,000 over a lifetime. The Government would fund research and inspect and monitor the universities, particularly on access.
The call was expected to be made on Wednesday in a speech to the Social Market Foundation, the influential centre-right think-tank founded by Lord Owen, who is also chancellor of Liverpool University.
But Andrew Pakes, president of the National Union of Students, said: "David Owen seems to get more right-wing the older he gets. It would take us back to the old days of university education purely for society's elite."