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Warwick University welcomes student e-debt

Laptops compulsory; ruinous debt possible

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Warwick University has come up with a revolutionary new way of pulling it into the Internet era - making ownership of a laptop compulsory for its students. Even better than that, it won't cost the University a thing because students will have to buy their own.

It could even save money because it won't have to invest the money it's paid by students into computing facilities. And just think of how much more it could charge Endsleigh et al to have insurance offices on campus thanks to the huge increase in laptop thefts. Then it could charge students for "essential" software for their course. Just think of the money. That could build a new research centre and new offices for the management.

The cost has been put at £1,250 spread over three years, although it has said it will offer a hardship fund that will bring the price down to £850 (although few students will find they are eligible). Unsurprisingly, students have condemned the move as "top-up fees by the backdoor", which, of course, it is. But quite a clever way of doing it.

The question also has to be: why will French, Drama, Philosophy, Medicine etc students need a laptop? Don't get us wrong, we're all for increased use of computers - it will be an essential skill for most people when they reach the job market, but there's a difference between encouragement and requirement. And it is discriminatory to poorer students - who, believe it or not, tend to be just as intelligent as rich students. Poorer students will simply go to another university. And Warwick won't miss them.

Then again, you may agree with one Warwick University official, quoted in the FT: "It's just like requiring a student to have a pencil to do an exam." We'd like to see a £1,250 pencil. Not even NASA has made them.

Of course, this could be all wrong and media hype and Warwick University's "e-strategy" could actually be a determined effort to help students and the university get the most out of the Internet revolution by making information easier and cheaper to share and lecturers more accessible and turning it into a prime example of the wired UK. But we're not holding our breath. ®

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