Sussex Vice Chancellor Professor Michael Farthing has spoken out against Labour’s pledge to cut tuition fees by a third.
Labour leader Ed Miliband is expected to lay out the detail of his party’s policy to reduce the maximum fees universities can charge per year from £9,000 to £6,000 later this week.
However, Farthing branded Labour’s plan “reckless” and believes changing the current system – brought in by the coalition in late 2010 – would automatically disadvantage poorer students.
“These extra fees are all about social mobility,” Farthing opined in a statement released on the university website this Tuesday. “The stated government policy aim is that eventually all students who are bright enough and who wish to attend will have an equal opportunity to come to university.
“It would be reckless for any head of a higher education institution to do anything but challenge a proposal which would appear to have such lasting damage on widening participation and social mobility.’’
His comments echo those of Liberal Democrat deputy leader Vince Cable who called Labour’s policy “populist”, as well as other Vice-Chancellors who wrote a letter to The Times in early February criticising the plan and claiming it would create a £10 billion black hole in university revenues.
According to The Guardian, Labour’s 2015 manifesto will propose that cutting tax relief for wealthy pensioners will fund their plan which aims to relieve the general financial burden on students.
Farthing, who in his first interview with The Badger upon becoming Sussex Vice-Chancellor back in 2007 revealed that he was a supporter of New Labour, appears to have become disenchanted with the party under the leadership of Ed Miliband.
Farthing added: “The maximum tuition fee that we can charge is already £6,000, unless we come up with a fully costed access agreement about how we will invest and work to attract students from under-represented groups.
“About half of our new undergraduates here at Sussex are now First-Generation Scholars – with no family background of university education or from lower income backgrounds,” he said.
Since the tripling of tuition fees, Farthing’s own pay packet has increased from £227,000 to £280,000, although his salary is slightly below the national average for Vice-Chancellors.
This year, the gap between application numbers from students from poor backgrounds and their richer peers has fallen to a record low.
Despite this, Students’ Union President Abraham Baldry voiced his opposition to Farthing’s statement on his official officers’ Facebook page.
“While Sussex should be commended for the work it does to attract students from disadvantaged backgrounds (and it does a lot), there’s no reason why the government cutting tuition fees would mean they’d ALSO cut the requirement for universities to attract first generation scholars,” Baldry argued.