Students challenge higher university fees in UK courts
The UK Government was accused in the High Court today of unlawfully erecting "a barrier to access to higher education" by planning too high an increase in university tuition fees.
Two judges were told the increases would disproportionately affect the less well-off, the disabled and members of black minority ethnic groups and threatened to increase the country's already wide gap between rich and poor.
Opportunities to obtain university degrees and seek a better life in this country were "becoming extraordinarily unequal", said Helen Mountfield QC.
She argued Business Secretary Vince Cable, who is responsible for higher education, had failed when fixing the new fees to comply with his statutory duty to promote equality of opportunity in the field of access to education.
Ms Mountfield is representing two 17-year-old students, Callum Hurley and Katy Moore, who want to go to university and are asking the High court in London to quash regulations adopted by Mr Cable in December 2010.
The regulations increased the cap on fees from £3,290 per annum to £9,000 per annum with effect from September 1 next year.
Ms Mountfield said it was an increase by "a factor of almost three" and added: "Tuition fees are so high relative to average family earnings, and the burden of debt prospective students must confront is so great, that these fees amount to a barrier to effective access to the higher educational institutions which exist in this country."
They disproportionately affected the more deprived socio-economic groups.
Ms Mountfield said the UK was "one of the least equal societies among OECD countries" and the income gap between rich and poor had widened in the last 30 years.
She said: "It is hard to think of any public function in relation to which the importance of the statutory need to promote equality of opportunity is greater than in the field of access to education."