Student finance: Tuition fees: how to survive them

Tuition fees are now a fact of life, but many students are at least partially exempt.
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The Independent Online
A new cost to take into account when working out how much money you will need to see you through university is tuition fees. The Government introduced them last September after deciding that students should pay something towards the costs of their course. For this academic year students are expected to pay up to pounds 1,025 in fees contributions, depending on how wealthy their parents are.

Though tuition fees have proved controversial, the Government has been quick to point out that students are only being asked to fork out a fraction of the true study costs. A Department for Education and Employment spokesman added: "The Government will automatically meet the rest of the cost of running courses. An average full-time course costs about pounds 4,000 a year per person, so this means about three-quarters of the cost will be met for you, even if you are asked to pay the maximum."

The DfEE estimates around a third of students pay the full contribution, a third are totally exempt, and a further third only pay a proportion of the contribution. The amount you pay is calculated by your local education authority after you send them a completed form giving details of your circumstances and how much your parents earn.

Tony Higgins, chief executive of UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions System), says: "The amount of Government support you can get towards your tuition fees depends on a number of factors - whether you study full-time or part-time; your income and that of your parents, husband or wife; which course you study; and whether or not you study at a publicly funded university or college; whether you've previously received Government support for a higher education course; and whether you meet a residence requirement. Over a graduate's lifetime and earning capacity, tuition fees are a relatively small expenditure, especially when you consider that less well-off families pay no fees."

Students whose gross family income is more than pounds 28,000 have to pay the full pounds 1,025 contribution each academic year. Where the gross family income is pounds 17,370 to pounds 27,999, they make a contribution on a sliding scale, and those whose family earns less than pounds 17,370, do not have to pay any tuition fees.

A DfEE spokesman added: "We strongly advise you to apply to your local education authority for support towards tuition fees, even if you think you will have to pay the full contribution. If you don't apply, you may have to pay the full fees charged by your college and you may not be able to receive student loans and grants towards your living costs."

Universities and colleges collect fees, and many allow payment to be made each term, or sometimes monthly, to make it easier for parents.

A NUS spokeswoman said: "As tuition fees are means-tested, they're supposed to be paid by students' parents. But if students get into financial trouble or feel they can't pay their fees, they should contact the student union, welfare officer or financial support person, not just sweep the problem under the carpet."

Part-time students don't have to pay as much - it varies from college to college. Starting this academic year, part-time students on income support, income-related Job Seekers' Allowance, housing benefit, or council tax benefit, are eligible for a fee waiver. If the sole income of the part-time students' family is DSS benefits or is below that for income support, they should also get a waiver.