Words by Nik Taylor
If you've ever wondered just how important The Student Room's community is to decision-makers, such as those in government, here's your answer.


TSR recently moved to a brand-spanking new office and David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, came along to officially open our new home.

While he was here, we took the opportunity to ask him a few key questions. Watch the video below to find out Willetts' thoughts on tuition fees, social mobility and what it was like to work with Margaret Thatcher - or scroll down for key quotes from the interview.




Key quotes from The Student Room's interview with David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science


On the importance of The Student Room
This is the biggest single online student community in the world and it matters a lot. It matters a lot to students [and] so it matters to me as the minister responsible for universities.


I think it's fantastic the information and advice that students get via The Student Room.
Information for prospective students is incredibly important. We are requiring universities to make more information available than they've ever done before: everything from employment outcomes for particular courses through to a whole range of indicators of student satisfaction. And its only the start.


Actually we want to see [universities] continuing to improve the range of information. When the raw data comes out, students often want to access that in fresh and interesting user-friendly ways. That's where The Student Room comes in.
On helping students even more
It would be interesting to hear from you where you think the information gaps are. You would be able to follow the student reactions and conversations which would identify where they're frustrated. There are areas of information which they're not currently getting; [knowing about that] enables us to have conversations with universities about making that information available.
What new information do universities need to make available to prospective students? Let us know on the Educational Debate forum.


On social mobility
There's good news and there's not-so-good news. The good news is that I think we have been able to get out the message out to 18 and 19-year-olds leaving school or college that they shouldn't be put off from going to university by fears that somehow they've got to pay up front. They don't pay up front, they only pay through PAYE - in future after they're earning £21,000 a year which is actually a higher threshold than in the past.


We've actually had a record percentage of low-income 18-year-olds applying to university this year - so that's the good news.


The bad news, where I'm very frustrated, is that we've got a big decline in applications from mature and part-time students. That's because we've been putting our limited communication budget into narrow-casting to those scool-leavers. I think the challenge for The Student Room and for government is how we can get that message out to 30 and 40-year-olds who can't be reached directly through school or college, who may be thinking of going back to university or going to university for the first time and may have picked up just from reading the papers that they all have to pay when they don't.
On tuition fees

We haven't got any plans to put them up. Of course, when we call them fees as you know they're nothing like a conventional payment up front. Even the so-called debt when you leave uni isn't like a credit card debt or a mortgage - it's basically an obligation to pay a 9% higher rate of income tax on your earnings over £21,000 until you pay back the cost of your higher education.


That's the model and, after the controversy (which I'm very aware of), I think it's already beginning to settle down and students realise they don't have any costs up front. It has enabled us to ensure that universities remain well-funded even in a time of great austerity.