Happy memories tinged with concerns

The rising costs of university education for students and their families is a major concern for the man who was Vice Chancellor of Durham University for a decade.

The rising costs of university education for students and their families is a major concern for the man who was Vice Chancellor of Durham University for a decade.

Sir Fred has happy memories of his time at Durham. "The university was going through exciting times," he says.

"But there were also tough times because Margaret Thatcher had come to power and university budgets were being savagely cut. We were told to close departments.

"The Thatcher years were years of contraction for universities. Many students who would have come to Durham were turned away."

His higher education concerns remain with the introduction of student loans and tuition fees.

He says: "I feel we have made a great mistake going down this route, burdening students with debt and putting them off going to university.

"It is a huge social mistake and I remain strongly opposed to it."

Sir Fred fears for students who leave university with debts of over £10,000 and then have to try to get on to the housing ladder.

"I would not have been allowed to go to university if my parents thought that I would incur debt."

He feels that, to finance the expansion of higher education, the Exchequer and the Inland Revenue could have been more imaginative and introduced a graduate tax.

This would be levied on graduates who went on to land well-paid jobs but there would be exemptions for cases such as women who took time off work to raise families or individuals who opted for more vocational, but lower-paid, work.

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