Last week, as you are aware, the House of Commons Education and Skills Select Committee made a number of recommendations for sweeping changes to higher education funding in this country.
The Committee rejected the view, widespread among UK citizens, uncontroversial in the trade union movement and almost universal among students, that the introduction of tuition fees and the abolition of student grants have erected an insuperable barrier to seriously expanding access to university.
In fact, it recommended that the Government proceed further in the same direction by increasing tuition fees and introducing higher rates of interest on student loans.
The Select Committee believes that the funds thus raised could be used to increase higher education funding and expand access. Even if this use of the money were not so very unlikely - since we know from the Higher Education Funding Council that the introduction of fees in 1998 was used to maintain and not increase spending on higher education - such measures would be undesirable in the extreme.
Applications have stagnated and drop-out rates soared since the introduction of tuition fees and the abolition of grants; and increase in fees and student debt would only exacerbate this trend.
Survey after survey has shown that fear of debt is the major factor preventing applications to university, and that working-class students are most likely to be deterred by this fear. You have already recognised this fact by introducing Education Maintenance Allowances for some further education students. But EMAs are too
little for too few.
Nor is it acceptable to suggest, as the Select Committee does, that these attacks can be compensated for by the introduction of more part-time courses accessible to those on low incomes. A two- or multi-tier education system, where a few can study freely while the majority receive vocational training plus a few poorly funded baubles, will mean educational apartheid between rich and poor.
Chancellor, we believe that if you were serious about expanding access, about the importance of education and about equal opportunities for all, you would:
l Scrap, not increase, all tuition fees in HE and FE
l Guarantee every student in the UK a living maintenance grant
l Fund education properly through progressive taxation of those who can afford it - the rich and big business
Without these measures, the Government's target of 50% of young people entering higher education will remain what it is currently - a sick joke.
The Government's claim that the money to fund these things simply doesn't exist is demonstrably nonsense. A few facts (your officials could no doubt produce a more comprehensive and exact list):
l Between 1990 and 2001, the richest 10% of UK citizens increased their share of the national income from 21% to 27%.
l Restoring the top-rate of income tax to what it was when Margaret Thatcher left office would raise something like £10 billion.
l Scrapping Britain's so-called nuclear deterrent would raise more than £3 billion; cutting defence spending to the European average more than £4 billion.
l Restoring corporation tax to what it was when you took office would raise around £7 billion.
l Restoring corporation tax to what it was in 1979 would raise more than £30 billion.
The money is there, what is lacking is political will!
We are not arguing that while students gain, others who rely on public services lose out.
Funding higher education should not mean making cuts elsewhere in public spending. We are deeply concerned about and opposed to the cuts and privatisations you are introducing in many areas of public services, and believe you should find the money to rebuild the welfare state as a whole.
We repeat, the money is there to fund public services, including education, properly - and we demand that the Government make use of it.
For the Campaign for Free Education,
(NUS National Executive Committee)
Contact the Campaign for Free Education at firstname.lastname@example.org