TOP-UP FEES REVOLT; STUDENTS Are Hoping to Defeat Government Plans to Introduce Top-Up Fees in Universities. CLAIRE STOKER Reports

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LIVERPOOL students will graduate with total debts of pounds 900m if proposed top up fees are introduced. There are 45,000 students in Liverpool and now their average debt on graduation is pounds 12,000. If government plans to introduce university top-up fees go ahead, this is predicted to rise to pounds 20,000. These are the statistics from the National Union of Students who, along with seven coach loads of Liverpool students, are marching across London on Sunday to protest about the proposals. Students from Liverpool university, Liverpool John Moores university and Liverpool Hope university college have been protesting in Liverpool this week with a Fees are Pants demonstration, donning huge pants to make their feelings clear. Hannah Charnock, president of Liverpool university's guild of students and spokeswoman for the protesters, said: "They are not particularly comfy, but nor is being saddled with pounds 20,000 of debt." Education minister Charles Clarke plans top-up fees of up to pounds 3,000 a year for students. He is looking at ways to guarantee young people from the poorest backgrounds will be exempt from paying the fees but has yet to announce details. The changes are part of a government white paper on reforms for higher education, including improving the quality of teaching, research and student support. Miss Charnock said: "The importance of all these measures are undermined if education is not available to all who can benefit. "Fees and lack of sufficient maintenance support will ensure higher education remains open only to those who can afford it." Universities are facing a funding crisis with many pleading poverty. But Miss Charnock said: "The government has known what it inherited since coming to power but has chosen to ignore it, pass the buck on to its predecessors and the bill to students." A debate on fees was being held in the university's guild of students today. Among the speakers at the event was Labour MP for Walton, Peter Kilfoyle, a critic of plans to make students pay more for their degrees. "It will deter more people from going to university who might otherwise have gone. "It will also create a two-tier system and students will be starting work with greater debt." Mr Kilfoyle believes higher education should be funded from central government through taxes. "We ignore this at our peril. A country's intellectual pool is the most important investment we can make and it's in the national interest to do it right rather than focus on the individual student. "We all benefit from ever more graduates with ever better educat i on a l qualifications." Cllr Paul Clein, Liverpool's executive member for education, agrees, adding: "This is discouraging young people, particularly from poorer families, from higher education." Students aged 16 are offered education maintenance allowances worth around pounds 30 a week to stay in education. Cllr Clein said: "It's mad to offer EMAs to encourage them to stay on post-16 only for them to be put off from continuing to university because of enormous debt which could take 20 years to pay off." T HE men leading Liverpool's universities say they need the money. And they say if top-up fees are the only solution on offer, they will grab it with both hands. Liverpool university's vice-chancellor, Prof essor Drummond Bone, said: "There is nothing else on the table to all universities to survive financially, so I find myself broadly in support of the plans - not wildly enthusiastic though." However, Prof Bone says by 2006 when the top-up fees would be introduced, pounds 3,000 will not be a lot of money and realistically it should stand at between pounds 5,000 and pounds 8,000 to cover the university's costs. …