Students and academics demonstrate against tuition fees and cuts in central London in November, 2016. ‘Higher education fees have been catastrophic for social mobility’. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
We commend the Labour party for calling for the end of the current £9,000 student tuition fee-and-loans regime for higher and further education (Report, 10 May). High tuition fees have been catastrophic for social mobility. They triggered a collapse in part-time study and cut late returners to higher education. It is nonsense to claim that the fee regime is progressive. They are also, paradoxically, more expensive than the previous £3,000 fee. In 2014 the Guardian reported the Treasury admitting that the rate of student debt write-off was predicted to ultimately be over 45% .
The high fee was designed for one purpose: to make HE privatisation profitable. David Willetts introduced the fee as part of a package of measures: the partial abolition of the block grant, removal of caps on student numbers, and now – with the appalling Higher Education and Research Act and Teaching Excellence Framework – the effective deregulation of the sector. The Conservative aim, outlined in their own green and white papers, is to allow companies with little or no track record in education to set up private universities, paid for by the taxpayer through fees and loans, offer degrees without oversight and, if it all goes wrong, shut up shop, abandoning students to their fate.
We commend Labour for demanding an end to the tuition fee regime, but we call on them to go further. If the party is serious about rescuing higher education in the UK, it must commit to repealing the HE Act, and support the reintroduction of rigorous academic standards in the sector.
Sean Wallis University College London, UCU National Executive Committee
Professor John Holmwood University of Nottingham, Campaign for the Public University
Tom Hickey University of Brighton, Council for the Defence of British Universities
Lee Jones Queen Mary University, London
Professor Des Freedman Goldsmiths University, London
Bruce Heil Open University
Patricia McManus University of Brighton
Professor Chris Jones Liverpool John Moores
Xanthe Whittaker University of Leeds
Sue Abbott University of Newcastle
Christina Paine London Metropolitan University
Lesley Kane Open University
David Muritu Sandwell College
Mandy Brown Lambeth College
Richard McEwan Tower Hamlets College