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Wilson right at one remove

I saw (TESS, August 21) that much of Brian Wilson's apologia was devoted to a defence of his stance on student tuition fees. With the luxury of no longer having to meet with organisations such as the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals, he turned his attack on "a few university principals who lobbied very assiduously. I do not think it has done them any good."

It doesn't do a former minister any good to rake over the ashes of his recent actions, especially when his successor has to rekindle the fire, but at least he has changed the seat of blame for his embarrassments. Previously it was student leaders, opposition parties and the media who had allegedly got the wrong end of the stick.

Oddly, however, Mr Wilson's assault on university principals turns out to have some validity, not over the principle of tuition fees but on how some institutions have reacted to the administrative task placed on them in collecting fees. It is quite wrong to levy charges of between Pounds 20 and Pounds 40 on students who are unable to make a single payment of the full Pounds 1,000. Stirling even toyed with demanding a Pounds 200 deposit as if it was selling its students a central heating system.

Of course universities do not want to be saddled with the burden of collecting fees, but they already have huge administrative structures dealing with matriculation, residence fees etc for their thousands of students and it is not too much to think that the extra work could be absorbed without penalising the hard up.

It may be, of course, that the principals are wary of the claims that the Student Awards Agency will play its role in assessing fees and informing universities of liabilities and money due. The agency has a track record of fouling up and it is always the students who suffer from inefficiencies and inequities. I write as a parent.

Ronald Thomson

Morningside Road, Edinburgh

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