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Student Editorials

Higher education in the United Kingdom: who should pay?

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 01 March 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:030344
  1. Graeme Catto, dean1
  1. 1Guy's, King's and St Thomas's medical school, and president of the General Medical Council

Graeme Catto looks at the newly proposed funding arrangements and how they might affect medical students

It is one of the ironies of life that those who once benefited from free university education and student grants are now recommending student fees for others. During the 1960s and 1970s the expansion of higher education, including additional numbers of medical students, was accompanied by a grant scheme for UK students that was sufficiently generous to prevent sizeable student debt. Today, when we are all more aware of the importance of widening participation in higher education to include those with ability from deprived backgrounds, a recent white paper, The Future of Higher Education, recommends that universities should be allowed to charge higher fees than at present.1 These fees may be up to a suggested maximum of £3000 ($4881; 4546) per year—provided that the universities meet certain conditions. The principal requirement for any university proposing to charge the increased fee will be to meet its target for recruiting students from groups with low participation. Currently these groups are assessed by social class, postcode, and whether they attended state or private schools. The government, however, wishes to move towards more sensitive indicators including family income, parents level of education, and the average results of the school or college attended. To oversee this complex and controversial system the white paper proposes that an “access regulator” be appointed; this Kafkaesque post has been dubbed “OffToff” by the British press.

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