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Fakenham students grill politicians

PUBLISHED: 07:00 21 March 2010 | UPDATED: 11:15 07 July 2010

Chris Hill

Fakenham College students fired questions at parliamentary candidates hoping to win their votes during a Question Time-styled pre-election debate.

About 300 A-level students filled the college's conference hall last Thursday for the event aimed at building their political awareness ahead of the general election, predicted to take place on May 6.

Fakenham College students fired questions at parliamentary candidates hoping to win their votes during a Question Time-styled pre-election debate.

About 300 A-level students filled the college's conference hall last Thursday for the event aimed at building their political awareness ahead of the general election, predicted to take place on May 6.

College director John McCourt chaired the panel - which included three candidates for the new Broadland seat (which will include Fakenham when boundaries are redrawn for the election). They were serving Mid Norfolk Tory MP Keith Simpson, Labour's Allyson Barron and Lib Dem candidate Dan Roper.

The line-up was completed by UKIP candidate Michael Baker, who will contest the North Norfolk constituency where Fakenham currently stands, and Bob

Gledhill, a Norwich City councillor representing the Green party in the debate.

The panel faced tough questions on issues ranging from the economy to university tuition fees - but there were also some less challenging topics such as the candidates' favourite TV shows.

Afterwards, a show of hands revealed a clear majority of the students would have voted for Mr Simpson - although about 20pc said they had changed political allegiance during the course of the debate.

One student, 17-year-old Ashley Cotton, said: “I have definitely changed my opinion. I didn't know much about politics to start with, but this has been very informative.”

One of the questions, asked by Rebecca Morgan, was: “Will the recently-announced cuts to the university budgets damage the UK's world-leading reputation in higher education?”

Mr Simpson said the UK was already struggling to compete with Chinese universities being built on a scale which “made some of ours look like corner shops”, and said more private investment was needed.

“These cuts will be damaging, but it is more complex than that and will certainly be felt by your generation,” he said.

Mr Roper said more scholarships and apprenticeships should be available, and was concerned that a cut in budgets could mean a rise in fees for prospective students.

Meanwhile, UKIP candidate Mr Baker said student grants should be minimised, and more focus should be placed on vocational training for all but the most academic or technical professions.

Mrs Barron said: “So are you saying that if somebody wants to be a hairdresser, they shouldn't have a degree? We should not knock people for what they want to do. I am talking about opportunities for all and investment in the future.”

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