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31 March 2015

Labour’s fees cut blasted by former access chief and Labour supporter

Martin Harris, former head of the Office of Fair Access and a Labour supporter, attacks the party's fees policy.

By Tim Wigmore

Labour’s planned £3,000 cut in fees has been condemned by a former head of the Office of Fair Access (Offa). Martin Harris, who served as the body’s director from its foundation in 2004 until 2012, told the New Statesman that “not a single extra student will go to university” because of the reduction in fees. 

The policy has already been widely-panned,  but the criticism from Harris, a Labour supporter, will be felt more keenly in party circles.

“You can get a much better return on the money you invest by effective forms of outreach and working very closely with schools than you will ever get by giving individual students who have already decided to go to university a sum of £600 or £900,” Harris says. “You could say whether that calls into question whether reducing the fees will have any more effect than putting them up in the first place.”

“That money could be better spent on encouraging young people,” he says. “I can say it now – I’m no longer a government employee. It would be much better spent on identifying students of potential and of capability in schools where there’s not a big record of sending students to selective universities, and giving them all the support that is appropriate in those schools.”

Lowering tuition fees to £6,000 will cost the government over £2 billion a year. While the plans are cost neutral –funded by reducing tax relief on pensions for those earning over £150,000 per year – Harris believes the extra money could have been spent far more effectively on university access.  

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“You could do a lot of outreach for that, couldn’t you?” Harris said. “If Miliband spends all that money, I hope he gives some of it to the schools.”

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