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NUS President Douglas Trainer spoke out against the introduction of tuition fees at a UCL debate last Tuesday after being accused of condoning government plans by student unions all over the country. Over eighty onlookers attended the debate to decided whether or not tuition fees were, in fact, the road to educational excellence.
He was immediately attacked by Labour Party member Paul Richards. I know you will join the other eight former NUS Presidents as a Labour MP, no matter which view you support here. Your ability to state one view in private and articulate the other so well in public amazes me, Douglas, Richards said during the heated debate.
Richards went on to say that students would have to face paying for their education themselves. Payment of the full grant is not a system that can be supported by the Labour government. It would be impossible for anyone to argue that the governments extra money should be spent on a privileged few rather than for instance the NHS, he told the audience.
Arguing for the opposition, Trainer agreed that education was still too limited. What we are experiencing at the moment is the greatest barrier to access higher education the nation has ever seen. We need to tear down the idea of the ivory towers of education that are not open to everyone. The problem is that no more cuts can be made into higher education, and that you cannot educate more people without putting in more money, he said.
Trainers speech at UCL, though criticised by some as hypocritical, still helped his fellow opponents sway 55% of participants to vote that fees would not result in educational excellence. In response to Conservative Party Member Conor Burns accusation that students waste grant money on late nights out, Trainer won over some of the audiences through laughs. Students DO get up in the mornings, Mr Burns, because thats when the Teletubbies are on.
Articulating his concerns about the tuition question, Trainer said that the government didnt realise that students were already paying through loans.
Anyone who thinks that loans and grants are just some extra free money to us is clearly off their rocker. We are reasonable, but theres no way well pay all of our tuition. Its the principle of fees-once youve breached the principle, itll just keep going in that direction. And if we breach the principle, top-up fees are an absolute reality. I think the business industry for one should contribute more to higher education funding. Higher education in this country was a world leader and we need to keep that reputation.
His words were supported by ex-Labour MP Lord McNally. More students are being crammed into the same system without any increase in funding, and the government does not want to go back on the rushed conclusion it came to after the Dearing report. We need to ask it to reconsider its quick decision of trying to charge fees.
Arguing for his current Party, the Liberal Democrats, he went even further than Trainer to condemn the plans. We cannot allow fees to become a reality. We had free education ourselves, and without it, I, for one, would not be here. Now I am being asked to kick away the ladder by which I myself ascended and I cant do that.
Weve all agreed that education needs more funding, UCLs Finance Officer Tim Barnes summed up before defending the governments plans. Alongside Paul Richards, he called for students to come up with the money.
I can tell you now that nobody will be discouraged from entering higher education on grounds of costs, because those in need will be considered, Richards said just one day before the shocking drop in UCAS applications was revealed to the nation. At the UCL debate, these arguments nevertheless convinced fourteen percent of those present to that tuition fees were the road to an improved higher education system. And if Douglas Trainer fails to stand in the way of the remaining voters this time, as some predict, students may have no choice but paying up in the end.
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