Uni chiefs plan top-up fees lobbying assault

University chiefs are staging a lobbying onslaught to persuade wavering Labour MPs to back the Government’s controversial plan to introduce top-up fees for students.

Universities UK (UUK), the body that represents vice-chancellors, was this week meeting Finsbury to thrash out the next stage of its campaign to promote top-up fees, the controversial element of the Higher Education Bill – the vote over which Tony Blair is staking his premiership.

A Finsbury spokesman confirmed that the agency was ‘helping UUK with parliamentary procedure’, but added: ‘We are doing no lobbying ourselves. This is something for UUK itself.’

He added: ‘The Government and UUK are coming at this from the same direction, although the whips are always going to have more sway than outside lobbyists.’

A UUK spokeswoman said she foresaw ‘a lot more opportunities’ for lobbying before January, when the House of Commons is expected to vote on the bill.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the National Union of Students, which is against top-up fees, pledged to continue to ‘press its case’ to MPs via its regional network of representatives.

By last weekend, 157 Labour MPs had signed a motion objecting to the fees. But polls published this week suggested nearly two-thirds of Labour voters back the proposals.

Education Secretary Charles Clarke was this week meeting MPs to

encourage them to support top-up fees, which would see fees of up to £3,000 per year levied on students, repayable after they graduate.

A spokesman for NATFHE, the university and college lecturers’ union that is working alongside the NUS, said its lobbying of MPs would ‘intensify’ as it attempted to ‘bring greater attention’ to the ‘damage to disadvantaged communities’ it believes would result from top-up fees.

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