The Future of Higher Education white paper proposes radical reform of university funding in England and Wales. Up-front tuition fees will be abolished and instead, universities will charge up to £3,000 per year of a course, to be paid after graduation when the student earns over £15,000. Education Secretary Charles Clarke said: 'They [universities] will be given the right to set their own fees and therefore be given a market incentive to provide the best courses for students and the economy'. The government will pay fees up to £1,100 per annum for students whose family income is under £10,000, and reintroduce a grant of less than £1,000 per year for students with a family income under £20,000. Medical students will have access to means-tested non-repayable bursaries in years five and six. 
Medical students already leave university with an average debt of £13,000. Under the proposed changes Mr Clarke estimates that the average debt after a three year course could be £21,000. Medical students may therefore emerge with double this burden and this could discourage applications. Dr Colin Smith, Chairman of the BMA's medical academic staff committee said: 'The Government is struggling to recruit the extra doctors to the NHS yet its plans for higher education will penalise a workforce that they desperately need'.
Although there is no biblical mandate for free education, as Christians we should be concerned about any policy which may deter those from low-income families from applying because of cost, keeping medicine as an elitist career. Universities have improved access for such students and it would be unfortunate to see this reversed. Introduction of these new fees could further promote a debt culture among students, and also add to the already great pressures facing junior doctors starting work.
Debt in the Bible is permissible, not ideal. Loans in Israel were charitable and given to help a countryman through a period of poverty. It was not permitted to charge interest, except to a foreigner, and debts had to be cancelled every seven years. Jesus extended this, commanding Christians to lend to their enemies and to those possibly unable to repay them. Should this paper be accepted by parliament, an incentives scheme to encourage universities to raise funds through endowments will be instituted. Perhaps we as salaried doctors should consider relieving the financial burden on our student colleagues by setting up such endowments. The consultation process for this white paper is open until 30 April 2003; please consider raising these concerns with your MP or writing to the consultation unit.