Tuition fees ruling could question legality of university charges

In landmark case, two students claim fee rise represents breach of right to free education enshrined in Human Rights Act

The high court is to rule on whether ministers acted legally in allowing universities to charge tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year from this autumn.

In November, two teenagers took the government to court, arguing that the decision to almost treble fees contravened human rights and equality legislation.

Callum Hurley and Katy Moore, who were both 17 at the time, made their case before Mr Justice King and Lord Justice Elias at the high court. The ruling is expected on Friday morning.

The pair were represented by Sam Jacobs of Public Interest Lawyers. Jacobs argued that there were two grounds for bringing the case. Firstly, he said the rise in fees was in breach of the right to education protected in the Human Rights Act 1998.

That right does not guarantee free higher education, but it does place curbs on steps that limit access to higher education, he said.

He also argued that the government had failed to give "due regard" to promoting equality of opportunity as required under the Race Relations, Sex Discrimination and Disability Discrimination Acts.

Female, disabled and ethnic minority graduates tend to earn less over their lifetime than white, male graduates without disabilities, Jacobs said.

The decision to treble fees was a "major policy change affecting the life chances of a generation of students and billions of pounds of public expenditure", the documents outlining the claimants' argument said. "Such a decision should not have been taken without the appropriate degree of rigorous attention to equality needs."

At the beginning of the case, Hurley, who is from Peterborough, said he was representing thousands of students from poor backgrounds who would be deterred from applying to university because of how much they would have to pay back once they graduated. Neither of his parents went to university.

Moore, from London, said her peers were confused about how much they would pay in tuition fees once they graduated. "This makes it difficult to decide what to do about our futures," she said.

Figures published by the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (Ucas) at the end of January show students from deprived homes have been less deterred by higher fees than those from better-off backgrounds.

The application rate from the most disadvantaged fifth of the population was down 0.2% in England. Among the wealthiest quintile, it fell 2.5%. The analysis was based on a ranking of neighbourhoods according to the participation of young people in higher education.


Jessica Shepherd, education correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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