MANSFIELD MP Alan Meale is on collision course with Prime Minister Tony Blair after admitting he will be voting against the Government on university top-up fees.
Mr Meale is one of many 'rebel' Labour MPs prepared to defy Mr Blair by rejecting controversial proposals for top-up tuition fees of up to 3,000 for university students during a crucial Commons vote on Tuesday.
There are fears that local youngsters could be prevented from going to university if top-up fees are introduced as part of the Higher Education Bill – while there are also concerns students that do go on into higher education will be left facing massive debts.
This week the Mansfield MP told Chad he was firmly against top-up fees and could not back the Government's stance.
And with speculation rife that Mr Blair's leadership is on the line if the vote goes against him, Mr Meale has dismissed any notion that he could be persuaded to vote for the proposals.
He said: "My issue is straight forward in that I don't agree with them. It does two things – burdens further debt on the students and if it does not do that it further burdens debt on the parents. I'm not in favour of either.
"The question that has been put to me is do I believe that students should be burdened with top-up fees. That's the only question before me and I will not be voting in favour of top-up fees."
Education Secretary Charles Clarke has recently announced a series of concessions to the Bill – including improved grant packages for poorer students and agreeing to write off all top-up fee repayments 25 years after graduation.
But Mr Meale refuses to change his mind, saying: "I'm not hypocritical. I was the first person ever to go to university from my village and I got a grant. I did not have to pay top-up fees or tuition fees.
"I have never voted for the individual to be given loans or anything else. I have always voted for grants only.
"I have seen so many people end up in huge debt because they went to university."
Instead, Mr Meale believes a simpler solution would be for graduates to pay a two per cent extra tax band when earning more than 15,000.
Universities say they need more funding to pay for the Government's pledge to attract more young people into higher education.
But Mr Meale claims the 3,000 top-up figure has been 'plucked out of the air by academics' and says 'the reality is that Oxford and Cambridge are swimming in money at the present time — they don't need top-up fees'.
And the Labour MP says he would prefer to see a drive towards vocational education with more youngsters being taught how to become plumbers and electricians.